Butterfly weed emerges late in spring, sending up many upright stems sporting lance-shaped, deep green leaves. It blooms for many weeks during the summer, bearing large clusters of small, crown-shaped flowers in shades of orange.
In autumn, the slender brown seedpods split open to disperse small, flat seeds, each attached to a silky plume that helps waft seeds through the air. It’s not invasive, but if you don’t want the seeds just deadhead after bloom. Butterfly weed is a great choice for dry, sandy sites.
Common name: Butterfly weed
Botanical name: Asclepias tuberosa
Plant type: Herbaceous perennial
Zones: 3 to 9
Height: 15 to 30 inches
- Sun: Full sun
- Soil: Sandy or gravelly; well-drained
- Moisture: Average to dry; drought-tolerant once established
- Mulch: None
- Pruning: None
- Fertilizer: Topdress with a ½-inch layer of compost in spring
Pests and diseases
- May develop root rot in poorly drained soils
- ‘Hello Yellow’ has sunny yellow flowers.
- ‘Gay Butterflies’ is a seed strain that produces blooms in a range of colors from yellow to orange and scarlet.
- As its name implies, butterfly weed is attractive to butterflies. Many species will visit the flowers, and the foliage is a food source for monarch caterpillars.
- Butterfly weed mingles beautifully with other prairie flowers including purple coneflower, false indigo and penstemon.
- Established plants are difficult to transplant because of their long taproots. If you must move a butterfly weed, dig down as far as possible to keep more of the root.
All in the family
- Butterfly weed is a member of the dogbane family (Apocynaceae), which contains about a thousand species of woody and herbaceous plants that grow primarily in tropical and subtropical regions.
- Other familiar garden and house plants in the dogbane family include Vinca, Madagascar periwinkle (Catharanthus roseus), wax flower (Hoya), frangipani (Plumeria) and oleander (Nerium oleander).
- Milkweeds (Asclepias spp.) are the only plants that monarch butterflies use as a host plant.
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