Butterfly weed, like other milkweeds 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 these perennial plants in summer. Butterfly weed is native to prairies and glades in the Chicago area and the Midwest.
All Common Names:
Tree or Plant Type:
- Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)
- Chicago area,
- North America
- Mixed border,
- Medium plant (12-24 inches)
- Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily)
- Zone 2,
- Zone 3,
- Zone 4,
- Zone 5 (Chicago),
- Zone 6,
- Zone 7,
- Zone 8,
- Zone 9
- Dry soil,
- Moist, well-drained soil
- Dry sites,
- Alkaline soil
Season of Interest:
- Mid summer,
- Late summer
Flower Color & Fragrance:
Shape or Form:
1 to 2 feet high and wide
Tree & Plant Care
Butterfly weed is slow to emerge in the spring and takes a few years to get established.
Some difficulting in transplanting because of the taproot, but will reseeds freely.
Great plant for naturalizing and butterfly gardens.
A natural for hot, sunny locations.
Late to emerge in spring, wait to prune old stems back plants in late spring.
Remove seed pods before they open to avoid spreading (optional).
Disease, pests and problems
Crown rot can be a problem in wet sites.
Disease, pest, and problem resistance
Drought tolerant, rabbits, deer, hummingbirds
Native geographic location and habitat
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.
Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture
Simple, alternate leaves; lance-shaped, 2 to 6 inches longand spiral up stiff stems
Flower arrangement, shape, and size
Many-flowered orange umbels in late summer. Bloom about 6 weeks.
Makes a good cut flower, singe base to stop sap flow
Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions
Seed pods (follicles) up to 6 inches long, contain numerous seeds that have large tufts of white hair which help with dispersal of seed by wind.
Related species and their differences
Whorled Milkweed or Horserail Milkweed (Asclepias verticillata): 18 to 24 inches high and 12 to 18 inches wide; narrow, thread-like, sessile, whorled leaves and small ,creamy white, hooded flowers in June through September. Native.