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Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa)

Other than Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), butterfly weed is one of the more common species that is thought of for butterflies and in terms of milkweeds. Its orange flowers are distinctive and unlike most milkweeds, it lacks a milky sap. Butterfly Weed can be purchased in the McMullen House Bed & Breakfast Garden Shop and it is also located in the Kitchen and Weather Station gardens of the Bed & Breakfast.

Taxonomy and History of Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa)

Herbarium specimen of butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa).
Herbarium Specimen — R. A. Nonenmacher, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons


Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) was originally described by Carl Von Linnaeus in 1753 in Species Plantarum. It is in the milkweed genus of the Dogbane Family — Apocynaceae. The species has three subspecies that include Asclepias tuberosa ssp. interior, Asclepias tuberosa spp. rolfsii, and Asclepias tuberosa ssp. tuberosa.

Description and Alternative Names

Monarch butterfly on butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa).
Monarch on Butterfly Weed — Laura Perlick, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


Butterfly Weed grows from 1 to 3 feet tall and has orange or yellow flowers that can bloom throughout the summer and if warm into most of the fall. The leaves of the plant, unlike other milkweed plants, do not contain a milky sap, are 2 to 5 inches long and about 1 inch in width.

Alternative Names

Butterfly Weed is also known by pleurisy root, yellow milkweed, white-root, and silky swallow-wort.

Range and Habitat

Meadow habitat in Europe.
Meadow Habitat — Leonhard Lenz, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons


Butterfly Weed is found in eastern and southwestern North America.


This plant likes a location that is in the full sun and prefers dry conditions but can also tolerate places that are slightly wet. It is suitable for meadow gardens and does not like to be moved because of the deep tap root that develops.

Host Species and Pollinators

As its name suggests, this plant is a host plant for butterflies and especially Monarch Butterflies. Others include gray hairstreak, queen, and milkweed tussock moths. It is pollinated primarily by bees and wasps.

Interesting Facts

This plant was selected as the 1985 North Carolina Wildflower of the Year (NC Extension Gardener).

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