Historical records indicate that Mead's milkweed has always been uncommon and the loss of habitat certainly did not enhance the species' prospects of survival. By 1978, a mere 18 populations were known and some experts feared that the species teetered on the brink of extinction. Extensive fieldwork has uncovered about 130 populations since then, although many are isolated from each other and consist of fewer than five plants, not enough to sustain a population for very long.
In 1988, Mead's milkweed was officially listed as Threatened by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
Mead's milkweed (Asclepias meadii) is one of 22 milkweeds found in Kansas and by far the least common. It may grow to two feet in height. Plants generally bear 4–6 pairs of lance-shaped, hairless leaves. At the end of each flowering stem is a single umbel of 10–20 greenish-cream flowers produced in late May and early June.
Slender, erect pods mature from mid-June to early September. A distinctive feature of the plant is its bent or drooping infloresence.
The greatest concentrations of these plants occurs in eastern Kansas, where more than 70 percent of the world's known populations are found. Mesic bluestem tallgrass prairie is the dominant vegetation of this area. The middle and upper slopes of ridges and hills tend to have shallow, well-drained soils, conditions favored by Mead's milkweed. Many of these areas are unsuitable for plowing, so significant areas have been used instead as prairie haymeadows.
The perennial nature of Mead's milkweed has allowed it to survive repeated annual mowings for generations. Unfortunately, most haymeadows are mowed before the seeds mature.
Efforts continue to identify additional viable populations and bring them under conservation management.