Matelea obliqua: Climbing Milkweed

Did you know that monarchs are not the only caterpillars that feed exclusively on milkweeds?  From our guest blogger and photographer, Fritz Flohr Reynolds:

Matelea obliqua, climbing or oblique milkweed, is a perennial herbaceous vine native to the eastern United States. Its range includes Washington D.C., as well as parts of Maryland and Virginia, including Fairfax county. Listed as an endangered species by the state of Maryland, Matelea obliqua, is not particularly abundant in any part of its range, and it must never be removed from the wild.


Matelea obliqua, climbing milkweed

In Virginia it grows in habitats such as open rocky woods and barrens, in dry to mesic conditions, over calcareous or mafic rocks. Because of these very specific habitat preferences, Matelea obliqua would probably not be an easy plant to cultivate.

Distribution of Matelea obliqua from the Digital Atlas of Virginia Flora

Distribution of Matelea obliqua from the Digital Atlas of Virginia Flora:

The genus Matelea, along with Asclepias, and the rest of the former family Asclepiadoideae, has now been included in the Apocynaceae family, according to the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group III system.

Matelea obliqua is known to be a host plant for Euchaetes egle, the Milkweed Tussock Moth.

Editor’s note: This moth is another insect which, just like the monarch butterfly, requires milkweed (Asclepias spp.) for a larval host plant. The tussock moth caterpillars often feed on older milkweed shoots. The monarch caterpillars (Danaus plexippus), prefer the younger shoots, so sharing is not a problem.

Fritz Flohr Reynolds was born and raised in Fairfax county, and she has extended an open invitation to our readers to explore her extensive and beautiful library of photographs on Flickr:

Clitoria mariana, flower. C & O Canal Park, Montgomery co., MD. (8/29/12)

Cypripedium acaule, Prince William Forest Park, 5-9-13


  1. William Smith on August 8, 2014 at 5:28 pm

    Are there any programs to encourage individuals and businesses to leave open areas available for native wildflowers for bees and butterflies?

  2. Stuart Sutphin on January 11, 2018 at 1:37 pm

    I have just read your article “Matelea obliqua: Climbing Milkweed” by SUZANNE DINGWELL on June 23, 2014. I noticed you showed no record of this plant in Pittsylvania County. There are 3 or 4 growing along a roadside near my home on White Oak Mountain near Chatham. I first noticed this plant about 10 years ago. Thought you might be interested.

    • VNPS Communications on January 14, 2018 at 10:45 am

      Stuart, thanks for your observation! This information could be of value to our Natural Heritage Program, they are the ones who maintain the maps. We would like to suggest that you contact them, any of the staff listed here would able to evaluate the information: