Vascular Plants of North Carolina
Account for Red Milkweed - Asclepias rubra   L.
Members of Apocynaceae:
Members of Asclepias with account distribution info or public map:
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Section 6 » Order Gentianales » Family Apocynaceae
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DistributionPresent over nearly all of the southern and central Coastal Plain, and barely west into the eastern edge of the Piedmont. Scattered in the northern Coastal Plain.

This is a Southeastern species, mainly limited to the Coastal Plain. It surprisingly ranges north to Long Island, NY, NJ, and eastern PA, south to western GA amd the FL Panhandle, west to eastern TX.
AbundanceInfrequent in the Sandhills, mainly in well-managed sites (with prescribed fire). Farther eastward, generally uncommon to infrequent, again mainly in well-managed longleaf Pine (Pinus palustris) natural areas toward the coast. Rare in the central portions of the Coastal Plain, as well as in the northern half. Very rare in the extreme eastern edge of the Piedmont (a streamhead in Montgomery County). Likely has declined considerably in the central and northern parts of the Coastal Plain, and no longer known from Wake County. The NCNHP's State Rank of S3 is too conservative, considering that Rare List (A. pedicellata) and Watch List (A. tomentosa) species of much smaller ranges are also give a rank of S3. The editors suggest that S4 is more appropriate for this species.
HabitatThis is a wetland species of acidic soils. It is most often found in sandhill seeps, streamhead margins, canebrakes, pocosin margins wet parts of savannas, and other fairly pristine places that are generally well-maintained with prescribed fires. It is also found in marshes around beaver ponds or rarely man-made ponds in the Sandhills region.
PhenologyBlooms in June and July, and fruits from July to September.
IdentificationThis is a fairly tall milkweed, usually growing about 2-2.5 feet tall, rarely to 3 feet tall. It has relatively few leaves, and these are quite long and slender; the paired, opposite leaves are lanceolate and about 4-4.5 inches long and slightly less than 1-inch wide, with long tapering tips. The flower clusters (umbels) are quite showy, with the few clusters being from upper axils and the summit and about 1.5 inches across. However, though there are relatively few flowers in each cluster, they are quite large for a milkweed, not quite 1-inch long. Each flower is bright pink to rose, to dull purple -- but nowhere near "red" as in the common and scientific names! Nonetheless, the clusters are quite showy. This species is infrequent enough that spotting it is normally a notable find, and the species usually does not occur in colonies but as a few scattered individuals.
Taxonomic CommentsNone

Other Common Name(s)As mentioned in Identification, Red Milkweed is a very poor name, as the flowers are rosy-colored to dull purple. However, this is the long established name, and other common names such as Purple Savanna Milkweed have yet to gain traction.
State RankS3 [S4]
Global RankG4G5
State Status
US Status
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Photo Gallery
B.A. SorrieStreamhead among longleaf pines, Lomax South. 24 June 2021. MontgomeryPhoto_natural
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