Poke Milkweed

Asclepias exaltata

There are several species of milkweed in our area; the flowers might be pink, red, orange, green or white. Pictured here is a white species called poke milkweed or tall milkweed. It grows 3 to 6 feet in height and bears large, smooth leaves that are opposite and broadly elliptic in shape. When the plant is in bloom, drooping umbels of white flowers emerge from the upper leaf axils. The flowers may be shaded purplish or green.

milkweed flower
Milkweed flower. Note the 5 petals that are bent backwards and the crown of 5 white hoods, each bearing a single white, curved “horn” that is longer than the hood.

All milkweed flowers have a unique structure: there are 5 petals that bend backwards around a central crown of 5 incurved “hoods” that sometimes bear a single “horn”. Poke milkweed flowers follow this pattern, and in this case, the horns are longer than the hoods. See the photo at right.

Milkweeds are probably best known for the white “milk” or latex that is exuded from the plant when a leaf or stem is broken. The milk can be toxic if ingested, although some people say that milkweed can be eaten if the plants are young and the cook who prepares them uses special precautions. As for me, I think I’ll pass on the eating part! I can enjoy them just the way they are!


3 Comments Add yours

  1. So that’s what a poke weed is! I’ve often come up on this term in novels set in the Smokey Mountains, especially IF THE CREEK DON’T RISE by Leah Weiss. “Poke” is a paper bag or sack, for example, but “poke weed” was listed as one of many wild flowers. From your pictures, I can see why this milkweed is called “poke weed” because the little hanging flowers look like tiny paper sacks!

    And what a coincidence your post is for me! I just wrote about milkweed this week, called “Seeds in Silk” at http://www.invitationtothegarden.WordPress.com.

    May I reblog your post as a guest blog on my site? I’m sure my readers would love to see it. There are over a hundred different milkweed varieties in the United States. I had listed only about seven of the more prominent ones that I know about. Let me know please at pineoakes@gmail.com

  2. Kim says:

    It’s growing in my lawn, in a shady area under a tree. I’ve planted grass seed in that area. How can I safely eradicate it in that area?

    1. Gloria says:

      I’m sorry I can’t advise you on how to get it out of your lawn. I would see it as a welcome addition to any garden. Maybe you can dig it up and put it in a garden bed instead of the lawn?

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