Vol. 10 Issue 2, Summer 2005
By Nicole Hamilton
Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberose) is a low-growing member of the milkweed family. It has colorful orange flowers that bloom from late spring through early fall. Unlike other milkweeds, it has a watery sap rather than a milky sap. Although it grows well in the garden, it may not flower until it is well established.
To get through dry summers, it stores water and food in a large taproot. Because this taproot runs deep and is brittle, it does not transplant well, so digging it up often kills the plant. The best way to bring butterfly weed into your garden is through seeds or young plants from the nursery.
A wide variety of butterflies, including monarchs, swallowtails, painted ladies, American ladies, red admirals, fritillaries, hairstreaks and hummingbird moths, readily visit the orange blossoms of butterfly weed.
From the bird world, ruby-throated hummingbirds are also attracted to the blossoms. While monarch butterfly caterpillars readily feed on common milkweed, a “taste test” shows that they are not as fond of butterfly weed. It may be that the leaves are too tough for the younger caterpillars to eat, and the leaves may not contain enough of the milkweed poison.
Butterfly weed has also been known as “pleurisy root” because it has been used in the past to treat bronchitis and other lung problems.