Milkweed: Butterfly Milkweed



Botanical Name:  Asclepias tuberosa

Common Name:  Butterfly Milkweed, Butterfly Weed, Butterflyweed, Orange Milkweed, Pleurisy Root, Chigger Flower, Chiggerweed

Description:  All of the milkweed species I sell are Florida ecotype plants that my suppliers grow in the North Central region of Florida. I use no pesticides on my milkweeds, neither do my suppliers.

Butterfly milkweed is a Florida native perennial that occurs naturally in sandhills, pine flatwoods, and other sandy uplands as well as along sunny roadsides.  It blooms spring through fall, attracting hummingbirds, butterflies, bees, and other pollinators. Has special value to native bees, bumble bees, and honey bees. Also attracts the good bugs that eat the bad bugs, which makes it great for your Integrated Pest Management program.

Butterfly milkweed’s bright orange to reddish flowers are born in showy terminal umbels. Each flower has a reflexed corolla and an upright corona, which is a characteristic typical of milkweed flowers. Stems are rough to hairy. Leaves are coarse, narrowly ovate to lanceolate, and oppositely arranged. Seeds are born in erect follicles that dry and split open as the fruit matures. Each seed is attached to a white silky pappus that catches the wind and aids in dispersal. I think the seed silk umbrellas are very cool to watch float on the wind.

It grows naturally in dry, well-drained, loam to sandy soil, with acidic to neutral pH. Its native habitats are sandhill, clayhill, scrub, and ruderal area in sun. Very drought tolerant after becoming established. Quickly grows 1-3′ tall x 1-2′ wide. Has high deer resistance. Makes a nice cut flower. It has a deep taproot, so it’s best to leave it where you plant it.

This milkweed is often confused with the non-native tropical milkweed because their flowers look a lot alike. I don’t sell the tropical milkweed. If you do have the tropical milkweed in your garden, please remember to cut it back in November to encourage the Monarchs to continue migrating south.

Florida has two subspecies of this milkweed: A. tuberosa ssp. rolfsii is less bushy, has wavy leaf margins, and occurs throughout Florida. A. tuberosa ssp. tuberosa has flatter, narrow leaves and is often found in woodlands in northern Florida.

Butterfly milkweed is an exception to the Asclepias genus in that its stem does not contain the milky latex that distinguishes the rest of the genus and gives it the common name “milkweed.” Which means although it is a larval host plant for the Queen, Monarch, and Soldier butterflies, the butterflies will use Butterfly Milkweed as a last choice for the butterflies to lay her eggs if other milkweeds are around. Sometimes you will see the caterpillars eating the flowers of the Butterfly Milkweed because the leaves are so course. This is one reason we need to have different species of native milkweed growing in our gardens.

Not salt tolerant of inundation by salty or brackish water. It has low/no tolerance of salty wind or direct salt spray.

This plant in 1-gallon containers is 8-15″ tall.

Plant Lore:  Butterfly milkweed is sometimes referred to as pleurisy root because Native Americans chewed the root of the plant to treat pleurisy. Today, it is commercially available as an extract and as a dried root powder. Genus name honors the Greek god Asklepios the god of medicine. Specific epithet means tuberous in reference to the roots.

Florida Hardiness Zones 8 – 10


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