Asclepias tuberosa

butterfly-weed, butterflyweed, butterfly milkweed, orange milkweed, pleurisy root, chigger flower


Leaf Arrangement


Leaf Attachment


Leaf Type


Leaf Shape

linear, oblong, lanceolate, oblanceolate, obovate

Growth Form


Flower Color

orange, red, yellow

Flower Month

May - October

Height (meters)

0.2 - 0.9

Milky Sap








Growing Season

Warm season

Prairie Coefficient of Conservatism


Field Characters

Red to orange and yellow flowers, hairy stems and leaves, clear sap, alternate leaves that are narrow, lance shaped and noticeably veined.

Cultural Information

Butterfly weed is not easily moved because of its large, fragile tap root. It prefers good drainage and full sun although it will tolerate some shade. Propagation is easy by seed. Fresh seed may be sown immediately in pots but are reported to benefit from stratification at 33-38 degrees F for 60 days (Shirley 1994, Steffen 1997). Light was found to have no effect on germination (Mitchell 1926). The pods usually split 4-6 weeks after flowering, and the seeds should be kept in the pod until ripe. Plants bloom in 2-3 years from seed. When grown in pots, deep pots should be used, due to its deep tap root. Seeds average approximately 65,000 - 73,000 seeds/lb and the planting rate is 25 lbs/acre. Terminal stem cuttings may be taken from vegetative stems. Stick in sharp sand or equal parts sand and peat with lower leaves removed. Roots in 6 weeks under mist or in rooting chamber. In the spring or fall, 2" long sections of the tap root may be dipped in rooting harmone and positioned vertically, 2" deep in a sandy mix outdoors. Sections of rhizome may also be taken in the spring or fall and and set upright just below the soil surface.

Animal Use

Larval host plant of monarch butterflies. Also attracts bees, hummingbirds, milkweed tiger moths, and orange sulfur butterflies (Shirley 1994). Ajilvsgi (1990) considers Asclepias tuberosa an excellent nectar producer but a poor larval host plant due to its hairiness, toughness and low concentration of toxic alkaloids. Charles Robertson, 1928: (Insects & hummingbirds suck nectar; observations are from Robertson, Hilty, Betz, Evans, Petersen, Moure & Hurd, and LaBerge) Bees (long-tongued) Apidae (Apinae): Apis mellifera fq; Anthophoridae (Eucerini): Melissodes communis, Melissodes tepaneca; Megachilidae (Anthidinini): Anthidium maculifrons; Megachilidae (Coelioxini): Coelioxys octodentata Bees (short-tongued) Halictidae (Halictinae): Augochloropsis metallica metallica Wasps Sphecidae (Sphecinae): Ammophila nigricans, Ammophila procera, Prionyx thomae, Sphex ichneumonea Flies Tachinidae: Acroglossa hesperidarum Butterflies Nymphalidae: Speyeria cybele, Speyeria idalia; Pieridae: Colias philodice; Papilionidae: Battus philenor, Papilio polyxenes asterias, Papilio troilus Moths Ctenuchidae: Cisseps fulvicollis Without pollinia: Birds Trochilidae: Trochilus colubris (H) Bees (long-tongued) Megachilidae (Megachilini): Megachile brevis brevis fq, Megachile montivaga Wasps Sphecidae (Sphecinae): Prionyx atrata Butterflies Nymphalidae: Danaus plexippes, Phyciodes tharos; Lycaenidae: Everes comyntas, Lycaena hyllus, Satyrium titus; Papilionidae: Papilio glaucus Pollinia Presence Unspecified: Bees (long-tongued) Apidae (Apinae): Apis mellifera (Btz); Apidae (Bombini): Bombus pensylvanica (Btz) fq; Anthophoridae (Ceratinini): Ceratina dupla dupla (Ev); Anthophoridae (Eucerini): Melissodes agilis (Pt), Melissodes bimaculata bimaculata (LB); Megachilidae (Megachilini): Megachile brevis brevis (Btz), Megachile latimanus (Ev), Megachile mendica (Ev); Megachilidae (Trypetini): Heriades carinatum (Ev) Bees (short-tongued) Halictidae (Halictinae): Augochlorella persimilis (MH), Augochlorella striata (MH), Augochloropsis metallica metallica (Ev), Halictus confusus (Ev), Halictus rubicunda (Ev), Lasioglossum pectoralis (Ev), Lasioglossum pilosus pilosus (Ev); Colletidae (Colletinae): Colletes simulans armatus (Btz); Colletidae (Hylaeinae): Hylaeus affinis (Ev) Wasps Sphecidae (Sphecinae): Sphex ichneumonea (Btz) Butterflies Nymphalidae: Danaus plexippes (Btz, H); Lycaenidae: Satyrium titus (Btz); Papilionidae: Papilio polyxenes asterias (H) Plant Bugs Lygaeidae: Lygaeus kalmii (Btz) fq Livestock prefer not to eat this plant.

Natural History

A warm season, deep rooted, stout forb that reproduces by seed and rootstocks. Usually occurs in well drained soil with pH of 4.5-6.5. Very often found in groups of 1-5. This species is highly variable, and all of the identification characters will not hold true for every plant. It is found in prairies through out the eastern U.S. It is not palatable to livestock, and when eaten as a last resort can be toxic. It is an increaser on native range, and chemicals are often use to control it. It is often used as an ornamental and is easily propagated (see cultural information). Reportedly the greens and roots were boiled and eaten by native Americans and the roots were used as medicine. It is the only native milkweed that does not have milky sap, and monarchs that feed on it are reportedly not distasteful to birds. All milkweeds are called "herb 'a houatte" by Acadians and is thought to be a variation of "ouate" or "cotton wool". This name may refer to the use of its seed silk as down (Holmes 1990).


Dry fields, roadsides, woodland margins.