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TREES & Plants

Butterfly weed

Like other milkweeds, this plant is a nectar source for many species of butterflies, giving it its common name.  It is also a caterpillar and larva host for the monarch butterfly, which may blend in with the abundant clusters of vibrant orange flowers that cover the tops of the plants in summer. Butterfly weed is native to prairies and glades in the Chicago area and the Midwest.

Botanical name: 
Asclepias tuberosa
All Common Names: 
Butterfly weed, Butterfly milkweed, Butterfly plant
Family (English): 
Dogbane (formerly milkweed)
Family (Botanic): 
Apocynaceae (formerly Asclepiadaceae)
Tree or Plant Type: 
  • Perennial
Foliage: 
  • Deciduous (foliage falls off)
Native Locale: 
  • Chicago area
  • Illinois
  • North America
Hardiness Zones: 
  • Zone 2
  • Zone 3
  • Zone 4
  • Zone 5
  • Zone 6
  • Zone 7
  • Zone 8
  • Zone 9
Growth Rate: 
  • Slow
Light Exposure: 
  • Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily)
Tolerances: 
  • Dry sites
  • Alkaline soil
Soil Preference: 
  • Dry soil
  • Moist, well-drained soil
Flower Color & Fragrance: 
  • Orange
Size Range: 
  • Medium plant (12-24 inches)
Shape or Form: 
  • Mounded
Landscape Uses: 
  • Massing
  • Foundation
  • Mixed border
  • Patio/sidewalk
  • Container
Time of Year: 
  • Mid summer
  • Late summer
More Information: 

Size

1 to 2 feet and wide

Tree & Plant Care

Butterfly weed is slow to emerge in the spring and  takes a few years to get established.  Difficulting in transplanting because of the taproot, but will reseeds freely.
Great plant for naturalizing and butterfly gardens.
A natural for hot, sunny locations.
Wait to prune old stems back plants in late spring.

Disease, pests and problems

Crown rot can be a problem in wet sites.

Disease, pest, and problem resistance

Drought tolerant

Native geographic location and habitat

C-Value: 7
Common to dry prairies and sandy soils.

Attracts birds & butterflies

This plant is one of the hosts for the  caterpillar of the monarch butterfly. It is also a good nectar source for many species of butterflies, including monarch, coral hairstreak, striped hairstreak, Edward’s hairstreak, banded hairstreak, Acadian hairstreak, Eastern tailed-blue, black swallowtail, tiger swallowtail, spicebush swallowtail, checkered white, American copper, great spangles fritillary, pearl crescent, and silver-spotted skipper butterflies.

Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture

Simple, alternate leaves;  lance-shaped, 2 to 6 inches long

Flower arrangement, shape, and size

Many-flowered orange umbels in late summer.

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions

Seed pods (follicles) containing numerous seeds that have large tufts of white hair which help with dispersal of seed by wind.