Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa)

Encyclopedia Article

butterfly weed

Asclepias tuberosa

image of butterfly weed flower
Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa)

Family: Asclepidaceae

Size: 1— 2.5’  tall; 1 — 1.5’ wide

Hardiness: Zones 3 — 9

Leaves: narrow, lance-shaped leaves.

Leaf Color: green

Flowers: clusters (umbels) of bright orange to yellow-orange flowers atop stems, June to August.

Fruit: spindle-shaped seed pods (3-6" long) which split open when ripe releasing numerous silky-tailed seeds for dispersal by the wind.

Habit: typically grows in a clump.

Stem: upright to reclining, hairy.

Nativity: North America

Insects & Disease Issues: No serious insect or disease problems. Crown rot can be a problem in wet, poorly drained soils. Susceptible to rust and leaf spot.

Culture and Uses:

The quintessential butterfly garden plant.  Its vibrant orange flowers are a great nectar source and the foliage serves as food for the monarch caterpillar.  Plant in full sun and well-drained soils.  Wet sites, especially over the winter are almost certain death for this species.  Milkweed gets its name from the milky sap it produces when leaves and stems are broken, although this species produces the least of it compared to others.  Plants are often late to emerge in spring, so don’t give up on it too early after the snow melts.  Plants are difficult to transplant, but once established grow easily so don’t move them.  Instead propagate by seed and wait the 2 to 3 years it will take to establish and flower.  Silky seeds in inflated pods will self-sow in the in the garden.  Remove pods before they split open if this is unwanted.

Notable Cultivars & Related Species:

A. incarnata (swamp milkweed) - 3-4’ tall, grow in wet areas.  Rose-pink flowers.  Butterflies love this one.  Great for the back of the border

‘Hello Yellow’ - great, bright yellow flowers

image of butterfly weed
Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa)

Last Reviewed: 
July, 2021