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Asclepias curassavica



Botanical Name

Asclepias curassavica L.

Linnaeus, C. von (1753) Species Plantarum 2: 215. Type: curassavica 9; lecto: LINN 310.18, fide D. O. Wijnands, Bot. Commelins 48 (1983).

Common name

Red Head Cotton Bush; Red Cotton; False Ipecac; Cotton Bush; West Indian Ipecacuana; Bastard Ipecacuana; Red Head; Wild Ipecac; Bloodflower; Bloodflower Milkweed




Usually flowers and fruits as a single-stemmed shrub about 1 m tall but also flowers when smaller.


Leaf blades about 11-13 x 3-3.5 cm. Stipules (glands?)? small, triangular, about 1 mm long. Lateral veins curved throughout their length. Petioles and twigs produce a milky exudate. Petiole bases joined by a line of white hairs along a scar extending across the twig.


Inflorescence axillary but appearing terminal with about ten flowers in each umbel. Petals slightly imbricate. Corona yellow to orange at anthesis. Pollinia yellow, translator maroon. Ovules numerous in each carpel.


Calyx persistent at the base of the fruit. Seeds immersed in fine silky hairs which are loosely attached as a clump to one end of the seed. Seeds with a narrow wing completely encircling the margin. Cotyledons wider than the radicle.


Cotyledons about 8-9 x 5 mm. Petiole bases joined by a line or scar extending across the stem. Petioles and stems produce a milky exudate. At the tenth leaf stage: leaves elliptic, apex acute, base attenuate, stipules small, about 0.8-1.0 mm long.

Distribution and Ecology

An introduced weed originally from tropical America now naturalized in all the Australian mainland states. Occurs in WA, NT and NEQ, its occurrence in CYP is not yet confirmed. Altitudinal range from near sea level to 1000 m. Grows along roads and in clearings in rain forest in NEQ.

Natural History

A poisonous plant causing death in sheep and cattle. Unpalatable and only eaten in time of scarcity. Everist (1974)

A food plant of the larval stages of the Lesser Wanderer and Wanderer Butterflies. Common & Waterhouse (1981).

Although proven poisonous to livestock, the bush has a reputation in popular medicine.

The bush is not native, but nevertheless entered into use amongst the Aborigines both as a fish poison and as a love charm. Cribb (1981).







Herb (herbaceous or woody, under 1 m tall)


Shrub (woody or herbaceous, 1-6 m tall)


RFK Code