Aquatic Milkweed, Asclepias perennis

Aquatic Milkweed, Asclepias Perennis

In the shadowy realm of the Skeleton Gardens, Asclepias perennis, also known as aquatic milkweed or white milkweed, emerges as a ghostly presence. Its haunting white flowers seem to float like spectral apparitions in the murky depths of the swampy habitats it inhabits, beckoning a host of pollinators and insects to partake in its nocturnal nourishment.

The Enigmatic Pollinators

As the sun dips below the horizon and twilight descends, the aquatic milkweed’s flowers emit an ethereal glow, luring its nightime visitors from the shadows. Among these elusive pollinators are the mysterious sphinx moths (Sphingidae), which hover around the flowers like faded apparitions, siphoning nectar with their long proboscises. Their delicate, fluttering wings brush against the flowers as they feed on the nectar, leaving behind pollen grains on the stigma, ensuring the next generation of aquatic milkweed.

Additional examples of the plant’s importance can be seen in its support of the monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) and the queen butterfly (Danaus gilippus). Both species depend on Asclepias perennis as a host plant for their larvae, and as a vital nectar source for the adult butterflies (Agrawal et al., 2019).

By cultivating this native plant, gardeners can actively contribute to the conservation of these butterfly populations, which have faced decline due to habitat loss and other factors (Pelton et al., 2019).

The milkweed’s toxic sap is absorbed by the voracious caterpillars, which in turn become toxic themselves, warding off would-be predators in a sinister display of chemical warfare.

Botanical Description

Asclepias perennis typically grows to a height of 1-3 feet (30-90 cm), with slender, erect stems and opposite leaves. The leaves are oblong and simple, measuring 2-6 inches (5-15 cm) in length, with smooth margins and a glossy, dark green appearance. The plant exudes a milky latex sap when damaged, which is characteristic of milkweeds. Don’t touch milkweed with your hands, especially the sap– it is toxic!

The aquatic milkweed’s flowers are small, white, and fragrant, arranged in terminal, umbel-like clusters. Each flower has five reflexed petals and a central corona consisting of five hood-like structures surrounding a short central column called the gynostegium. The stems can sometimes present a #palewave purple, complimenting the white floating above. Blooming occurs from late spring to early fall, attracting pollinators such as bees, butterflies, and other insects.

Habitat and Distribution

As its name suggests, Asclepias perennis thrives in wetland habitats such as swamps, marshes, and the edges of ponds and streams. The plant is native to the southeastern United States, with a range that extends from eastern Texas to Florida and north to southern Illinois and Virginia.


Asclepias perennis is a critical native plant, playing a central role in the survival and prosperity of various pollinators and insects. Its ability to thrive in moist to wet soils and full sun to partial shade makes it an ideal candidate for cultivating in pollinator-friendly gardens or naturalizing wetland areas. In addition to providing ecological benefits, the aquatic milkweed’s ethereal beauty and fragrant flowers make it an enchanting addition to any skeleton-themed, #ghostwave, or #gothwave native garden.

To propagate aquatic milkweed, seeds can be collected from mature pods and sown directly in the desired location or started indoors and transplanted once established. Division of established clumps can also be done to propagate new plants.


The aquatic milkweed, Asclepias perennis, is a remarkable native plant that not only enchants with its ghostly beauty and fragrant flowers but also offers significant ecological benefits. By incorporating this species into wetland restoration projects or backyard gardens, we can support essential pollinators, promote biodiversity, and contribute to the health of our natural environments. In the shadowy world of the skeleton-themed native garden, Asclepias perennis serves as a vital sanctuary for the mysterious creatures that dwell within, weaving a tapestry of life beneath the pale moonlight.


  • Agrawal, A. A., Ali, J. G., Rasmann, S., & Fishbein, M. (2019). Macroevolutionary trends in the defense of milkweeds against monarchs: latex, cardenolides, and tolerance of herbivory. Arthropod-Plant Interactions, 13(3), 331-342.
  • Pelton, E., Schultz, C. B., Jepsen, S. J., Black, S. H., & Crone, E. E. (2019). Western monarch population plummets: Status, probable causes, and recommended conservation actions. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, 7, 258.
Scientific NameAsclepias perennis
Common NameAquatic Milkweed, White Swamp Milkweed
SpeciesA. perennis
HabitatSwamps, marshes, wet meadows, and floodplain forests
Native RangeSoutheastern United States
Plant TypeHerbaceous perennial
Life CyclePerennial
Bloom TimeLate spring to early fall
Flower ColorWhite
Flower StructureUmbel-like clusters of small, tubular flowers
PollinatorsBees, butterflies, and other insects
Soil PreferenceWet or consistently moist, rich loamy or sandy soils
Light RequirementFull sun to partial shade
Water RequirementHigh; requires consistently moist to wet conditions
Propagation MethodsSeeds, stem cuttings, and root cuttings
Conservation StatusNot evaluated; however, it is a rare plant in some parts of its native range
UsesOrnamental, butterfly gardens, wildlife habitat, and pollinator gardens

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