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Apocynaceae vs. Asclepiadaceae: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Janet White || Published on March 1, 2024
Apocynaceae is a family of flowering plants known for having milky sap and often toxic properties. Asclepiadaceae is a former plant family now classified within Apocynaceae, known for unique pollination mechanisms.

Key Differences

Apocynaceae, also known as the dogbane family, includes a wide variety of flowering plants, many of which are known for their milky sap and toxic properties. Asclepiadaceae, formerly a separate family, is now subsumed under Apocynaceae and includes plants like milkweeds, characterized by their specialized pollination structures.
Plants in Apocynaceae are diverse, ranging from vines to trees, and are often found in tropical climates. Asclepiadaceae species, now part of Apocynaceae, are particularly noted for their complex flowers and unique pollination method involving specialized structures called pollinia.
The Apocynaceae family is known for ornamental plants like the oleander and medicinal plants like the periwinkle. In contrast, Asclepiadaceae species, such as milkweeds, are crucial for the survival of certain butterfly species, particularly monarch butterflies.
Members of Apocynaceae often contain alkaloids and cardiac glycosides, making them toxic. The Asclepiadaceae, as part of Apocynaceae, share similar traits but are especially distinguished by their paired pollen sacs in flowers.
Apocynaceae includes genera like Vinca and Nerium, while Asclepiadaceae, now a subfamily within Apocynaceae, includes genera such as Asclepias, famous for its role in ecosystems as a host for butterflies.

Comparison Chart


A distinct family of flowering plants
A subfamily within Apocynaceae

Flower Structure

Varied, often with milky sap
Complex flowers with pollinia

Known For

Ornamental and medicinal plants
Supporting butterflies, especially monarchs


Often contains alkaloids and glycosides
Similar traits, with unique pollination mechanisms

Example Genera

Vinca, Nerium
Asclepias (milkweeds)

Apocynaceae and Asclepiadaceae Definitions


Has both ornamental and medicinal species.
The decorative and medicinal plants in Apocynaceae make it a significant family.


Characterized by specialized pollinia.
The pollination of Asclepiadaceae plants involves the transfer of pollinia.


Known for diverse species with milky sap.
The oleander, a member of Apocynaceae, is common in warm climates.


Known for intricate and unique flowers.
The complex flowers of Asclepiadaceae are fascinating in their structure.


Includes trees, shrubs, and vines.
Apocynaceae encompasses a variety of plant forms, from vines to trees.


Some species have medicinal properties.
Certain Asclepiadaceae species are studied for their medicinal potential.


Many plants in this family are toxic.
Plants in Apocynaceae, like some periwinkles, contain medicinal alkaloids.


Important for the survival of some butterflies.
Milkweeds from Asclepiadaceae are essential for monarch caterpillars.


Mostly found in warmer regions.
The Apocynaceae family thrives in tropical and subtropical areas.


Formerly a separate family, now included in Apocynaceae.
Asclepiadaceae, such as milkweeds, are crucial for monarch butterflies.


Chiefly tropical trees or shrubs or herbs having milky juice and often showy flowers; many are sources of drugs


A widely distributed family of herbs and shrubs most with milky juice; examples are the milkweeds (genus Asclepias).


Widely distributed family of herbs and shrubs of the order Gentianales; most with milky juice


Are Apocynaceae plants toxic?

Many contain toxic substances.

What is unique about Asclepiadaceae flowers?

Their complex structures and pollinia.

Why are Asclepiadaceae plants important for butterflies?

They are crucial for species like monarchs.

What types of plants are in Apocynaceae?

Trees, shrubs, and vines.

Is Asclepiadaceae still considered a separate family?

No, it's now part of Apocynaceae.

Can Apocynaceae plants be used medicinally?

Yes, some have medicinal properties.

Are there any edible Apocynaceae plants?

Most are not edible due to toxicity.

Are Apocynaceae plants found worldwide?

Mostly in tropical and subtropical regions.

What are common uses of Apocynaceae plants?

Ornamental and medicinal.

Can Asclepiadaceae be grown in gardens?

Yes, particularly milkweeds for butterflies.

Do Asclepiadaceae species support any wildlife?

Yes, especially butterflies.

What's a well-known Asclepiadaceae plant?

The milkweed.

What role do Asclepiadaceae play in ecosystems?

Supporting pollinators and wildlife.

How diverse is the Apocynaceae family?

It has a wide range of plant types.

Can Apocynaceae species be used in landscaping?

Yes, especially for ornamental purposes.

Do Asclepiadaceae plants require special care?

They vary, but many are hardy and low-maintenance.

Is the milky sap in Apocynaceae plants always toxic?

Often, but not always.

Is the oleander part of Apocynaceae?

Yes, it's a well-known member.

How do Asclepiadaceae plants pollinate?

Through specialized pollinia.

Are Asclepiadaceae plants easy to identify?

Their unique flowers make them recognizable.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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