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Butterfly weed

Orange flowers of butterfly weed

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.

Botanical name:

Asclepias tuberosa

All Common Names:

Butterfly weed, Butterfly milkweed, Butterfly plant, Pleurisy Root

Family (English):

Dogbane (formerly milkweed)

Family (Botanic):

Apocynaceae (formerly Asclepiadaceae)

Tree or Plant Type:

  • Perennial


  • Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)

Native Locale:

  • Chicago area,
  • Illinois,
  • North America

Landscape Uses:

  • Container,
  • Foundation,
  • Massing,
  • Mixed border,
  • Patio/sidewalk

Size Range:

  • Medium plant (12-24 inches)

Light Exposure:

  • Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily)

Hardiness Zones:

  • Zone 2,
  • Zone 3,
  • Zone 4,
  • Zone 5 (Chicago),
  • Zone 6,
  • Zone 7,
  • Zone 8,
  • Zone 9

Soil Preference:

  • Dry soil,
  • Moist, well-drained soil


  • Dry sites,
  • Alkaline soil

Season of Interest:

  • Mid summer,
  • Late summer

Flower Color & Fragrance:

  • Orange,
  • White

Shape or Form:

  • Mounded

Growth Rate:

  • Slow

More Information:


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

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. 

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.

Location of Asclepias tuberosa (Butterfly weed) at the Arboretum