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Butterfly weed provides nectar and food source for butterflies and butterfly larvae. Drought tolerant.

Butterfly weed provides nectar and food source for butterflies and butterfly larvae. Drought tolerant. USDA, NRCS. 2012. The PLANTS Database (http://plants.usda.gov, 5 October 2012). National Plant Data Team, Greensboro, NC 27401-4901 USA.

Asclepias tuberosa

Butterfly weed

FIRST IMPRESSIONS:  Asclepias tuberosa is an upright perennial with oblong leaves.  In summer large clusters of bright orange flowers grace the plant.  Flowers attract a bevy of nectar seeking butterflies.  Plants are best adapted to sunny sites with well drained or dry soil.

HABITAT & HARDINESS:  Asclepias tuberosa occurs in prairies, open woods or on roadsides in eastern and central North America.  Range extends from Canada to Florida and west to Arizona often on deep sandy soils.

Plants are hardy from USDA Zones 3-9.

PLANT DESCRIPTION:  Asclepias tuberosa is a bushy warm season perennial with many branched pubescent stems emerging from a sturdy tap root.  Unlike other milkweeds, this one does not contain milky latex sap.

The leaves are bright green and lance shaped.  Summer flowers are arranged in flat topped clusters and are composed of many small star shaped florets in shades of orange and scarlet.  This milkweed is a repeat bloomer that attracts butterflies, moths, bees and hummingbirds. 

Young gray-green seed pods are covered in short silky hairs.  The pods split when ripe and release brown seed with silken parachutes that drift away on the wind. 

Plants grow 3’ tall with 3’ spread.

CULTURAL & MAINTENANCE NEEDSAsclepias tuberosa is an easily cultivated sun loving plant for well drained or dry soils.  Mistakes made in cultivation can usually be attributed to pampering the plant.  Successful culture requires that the gardener duplicate the harshness of the natural ecosystems where this milkweed occurs.

Established plants are very drought tolerant but are difficult to transplant due to the taproot. They also tolerate harsh winds and controlled burns.

Recently planted plugs may need mulch to protect them from frost heaving.  Asclepias tuberosa emerges from dormancy later than many so planting locations should be marked to avoid disturbance.

Asclepias tuberosa is not palatable to deer and other herbivores but all sorts of insects love it.  In fact, it is almost impossible to grow milkweed without a throng of oleander aphids in residence.  These tiny orange plant lice suck the plant’s sap and exude sticky honeydew that is the perfect cultural medium for black sooty mold.  If this is an issue, conventional pesticides should be avoided because they often kill the highly desirable Monarch Butterfly caterpillar. 

LANDSCAPE USES:  This is a great choice for a Wildlife Garden, Dry Meadow or Prairie.  Plants are also used as an Accent, Butterfly Nectar Plant, Butterfly Host Plant or as part of a Grouping or Mass Planting.  Asclepias tuberosa provides Showy Blooms and can be used in Cottage Gardens, Deer Resistant Plantings, Water-wise Landscapes, Low Maintenance Plantings, Perennial Borders, Roadsides and Restoration Projects.

COMPANION & UNDERSTUDY PLANTS:  Asclepias tuberosa mingles well with Coreopsis tripteris, Echinacea purpurea, Liatris aspera and Rudbeckia hirta.

Asclepias verticillata has similar height and habitat needs and can be substituted if needed.

TRIVIA:  Asclepias tuberosa will host Monarch Butterfly caterpillars.  If other milkweeds are present, however, this one is often ignored.  This is probably due to the fact that this plant’s clear sap contains fewer toxins and imparts less protection to the caterpillar than milkweeds with milky sap.

Also hosts Grey Hairstreak and Queen Butterfly caterpillars.


Height:

1-3 ft

Spread:

1-2 ft

Spacing:

18-24 in

USDA Hardiness Zone:

4-10

Bloom Color:

Orange

Asclepias tuberosa Characteristics

Exposure

  • Full Sun to Partial Shade

Critter Resistance

  • Deer Resistant

Attracts Wildlife

  • Butterflies

Soil Moisture Preference

  • Dry

Attributes

  • Naturalizing
  • Favorite
  • Drought Tolerant

Flowering Months

  • July
  • June

Foliage Color

  • Green

Juglans nigra Tolerance (Black Walnut)

  • Yes

Salt Tolerance

  • Medium

Interesting Notes:

For more information on this plant, visit the USDA PLANTS Database: http://plants.usda.gov/java/profile?symbol=ASTU


Plants that work well with Asclepias tuberosa ''

Yarrow Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
Big bluestem Big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii)
Broom sedge Broom sedge (Andropogon virginicus)
Field pussytoes Field pussytoes (Antennaria neglecta)
Tall coreopsis Tall coreopsis (Coreopsis tripteris)
Purple coneflower Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)
Sweet black-eyed Susan Sweet black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)
Yellow wild indigo Yellow wild indigo (Baptisia tinctoria)
Sideoats grama Sideoats grama (Bouteloua curtipendula)
Wine cups Wine cups (Callirhoe involucrata)
pearly everlasting pearly everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea)
Harebell Harebell (Campanula rotundifolia)
Northern seaoates Northern seaoates (Chasmanthium latifolium)
Lanceleaf tickseed Lanceleaf tickseed (Coreopsis lanceolata)
Greater tickseed Greater tickseed (Coreopsis major)
Obedient plant Obedient plant (Physostegia virginiana)
Maryland golden star Maryland golden star (Chyrsopsis mariana)
Thread leaf tickseed Thread leaf tickseed (Coreopsis verticillata)
Thread leaf tickseed Thread leaf tickseed (Coreopsis verticillata 'Zagreb')
Thread leaf tickseed Thread leaf tickseed (Coreopsis verticillata 'Moonbeam')
Coneflower Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea 'PowWow Wild Berry')
PowWow White coneflower PowWow White coneflower (Echinacea purpurea 'PowWow White')
Purple coneflower Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea 'PowWow Wild Berry')
Rattlesnake master Rattlesnake master (Eryngium yuccifolium)
Pickerel Weed Pickerel Weed (Pontendaria cordata)
Poverty oat grass Poverty oat grass (Danthonia spicata)
Indian grass Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans)
Saltmeadow cordgrass Saltmeadow cordgrass (Spartina patens)
Prairie dropseed Prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis)
Horsemint Horsemint (Monarda punctata)
Sundrops Sundrops (Oenothera fruiticosa 'Cold crick')
Sundrops Sundrops (Oenothera fruticosa)
Wild quinine Wild quinine (Parthenium integrifolium)
Obedient plant Obedient plant (Physostegia virginiana 'Vivid')
Brown-eyed Susan Brown-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia triloba)
Iron Butterfly ironweed Iron Butterfly ironweed (Vernonia lettermannii 'Iron Butterfly')
Golden Alexander's Golden Alexander's (Zizia aureus)
Lead plant Lead plant (Amorpha canascens)
heath aster heath aster (Aster ericoides)
Snow Flurry heath aster Snow Flurry heath aster (Aster ericoides 'Snow Flurry')
Elliott's beard grass (No Advance Orders) Elliott's beard grass (No Advance Orders) (Andropogon gyrans)
American senna American senna (Cassia marilandica)
Grey-Headed Coneflower Grey-Headed Coneflower (Ratibida pinnata)
Purple Prairie Clover Purple Prairie Clover (Dalea purpurea)

Substitutions for Asclepias tuberosa

Common milkweed (No Advance Orders) Common milkweed (No Advance Orders) (Asclepias syriaca)
Eastern whorled milkweed Eastern whorled milkweed (Asclepias verticillata)