Australian Tropical Rainforest Plants - Online edition

Asclepias curassavica L.

Herb (herbaceous or woody, under 1 m tall)
Shrub (woody or herbaceous, 1-6 m tall)
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Habit, leaves and flowers. © CSIRO
Scale bar 10mm. © CSIRO
10th leaf stage. © CSIRO
Cotyledon stage, epigeal germination. © CSIRO

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. Seed germination time 13 to 21 days.

Distribution and Ecology

An introduced species originally from Mexico, now naturalised in NEQ and in south eastern Queensland and north eastern New South Wales. Altitudinal range in NEQ uncertain but collected at 900-960 m. In NEQ usually found on rain forest margins. Also naturalised in New Guinea and other parts of Malesia.

Natural History & Notes

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).

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