Asclepias Tuberosa

Butterfly Weed for Monarchs and More

Asclepias tuberosa: Butterfly weed, Butterfly milkweed, Pleurisy root

Honeybee on Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa)
Makin’ Honey

Plant Specs:

  • Perennial: USDA hardiness zones 3a-9b (lows -40 °C or -40 °F)
  • Native to most of the Continental US and eastern Canada
  • Plant in full sun
  • Height: 2 to 3 feet
  • Spacing: 15-18 in.
  • Majestically crowned orange flowers
  • ‘Hello Yellow’ cultivar has yellow blooms
  • Leaves don’t contain milky sap like other species

Plant Propagation:

  • Sow directly in fall- November is a good option for most regions
  • Start seeds indoors 2 months before final frost- refrigerator cold stratification required
  • Sow seeds directly after final frost- don’t forget to stratify first
  • Divide by rhizomes
  • Winter sowing provides a natural cold stratification
Orange Flowers of Asclepias Tuberosa (butterfly weed)
The Great Orange Sea

Pros:

  • Serves as Host and Nectar plant
  • Popular nectar source for many butterflies
  • Attracts a wide range of beneficial pollinators
  • Long bloom period summer-fall
  • Not considered invasive
  • The thick, rugged leaves present a good place for chrysalis formation
  • Make a nice cut flower for your home
  • Deer resistant

Cons:

  • Rough leaves for monarch caterpillars, not a heavily used host plant
  • hard to transplant because of tap root
  • Aphids can be an issue
  • Difficult to grow in clay soil
  • Takes up to 3 years to really get growing

Tuberosa Growing Tips:

  • Grows well in sandy, well-draining soils
  • Fertilize with organic slow-release fertilizer
  • This can be a difficult choice in the wrong spot. However, it also can take awhile to get going. Give it 3 years to prove it’s worthy for your garden
  • Since tuberosa can be temperamental about growing conditions, try planting in a couple different spots.
  • Cut off pods to stop seeding or
  • Use twist ties or rubber bands to bind pods for seed collection
Pipevine Swallowtail Visits Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa)
Butterfly Pipeline

Pollinator Plus:

This milkweed also attracts bumblebees, eastern tiger swallowtails, fritillaries, hairstreaks, honeybees, painted ladies, pipevine swallowtails, and more. (If you know of other pollinators Asclepias tuberosa attracts, please share your sightings below.)

Resources:

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18+ Milkweed Options for North American Butterfly Gardens

Please post below if you have any questions, comments, or suggestions for growing Asclepias tuberosa in your garden:
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Comments

  1. says

    Hi Craig, it’s a good nectar plant, and it can be used as a host plant. It’s not usually the preferred host plant though. Another consideration is that tuberosa is a native plant. Even though tropical milkweed is a better host plant, some people refuse to plant it because it’s non-native. My goal is to lay out all the options and let you decide.

    • says

      Hi Clare, if orange oleander aphids are taking over your milkweed they should be visible. If you have an infestation, you can cut off the most affected stems and discard them to cut back on the population for next season since aphids lay eggs in fall. Otherwise, I wouldn’t worry too much about your butterfly weed at this point. Monarchs typically lay eggs on tuberosa earlier in the season.

  2. Ken Bosso says

    I have ordered 3 Ascelepias Tuberosa – Hello Yellow plants for my garden (Waystation 7700). Last year I planted the orange variety from seeds and they came up but never got more than 3″ tall. Hope they return and do better this year. I will be planting 6 native varieties of Mw to see what will grow in Baton Rouge, LA. I will always have tropical because the monarchs love it.

    • says

      Hi Ken, tuberosa can start pretty slow, but ours made a dramatic improvement when we moved them to a new location last season. The location got morning sun (not afternoon) and composted manure was mixed into the soil. Curious to see if they will REALLY take off this season. Keep us posted on your new plants…

    • says

      Hi Connie, nice to hear you had success but many gardeners report finding few eggs/cats on tuberosa or being bypassed completely. We grow about 15 types of milkweed now and tuberosa generally has one of the lowest egg/caterpillar counts. My guess is that the coarse, sapless leaves have something to do with it…

      • says

        Hey Tony ! I hope you’re well. If steaks not available we’ll settle for hamburger. Tropical is the Steak although it’s perennial in only 5% of the country. Big Nursery promotes it because the customer has to buy it every year and it’s easier to produce than tropical . Tuberosa is the milkweed of the future and past. Read its history in the U S and its range. Look for supplies to increase because of the bad mouthing of Tropical.

        • says

          Hi Craig, we grow both steak and hamburger, but we live in a region where E. Coli isn’t a major issue so the tropical bashing isn’t as severe ;) Because monarchs seem hesitant to use tuberosa as a host plant, I wouldn’t depend on it as the future of milkweed. I’m partial to incarnata because it’s a popular host and nectar plant. I realize incarnata isn’t suitable for dry regions, but it grows very well in containers without a taproot, which makes it a good garden plant for all regions.

          As for replenishing wild fields of milkweed in Texas, I’m not sure what the answer is, but I don’t think it’s tropical or tuberosa…

  3. Jean says

    Hi Tony, thank you for the great information. I am new to the Butterfly Weed for Monarchs. Forgive my ignorance, but is the Butterfly Weed considered a shrub, plant or grass?? Thanks in advance for your reply!

  4. Jean says

    Thanks so much for getting back with me so quickly!! I truly appreciate your time & expertise, Patience, and willingness to share!!

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