The herbaceous perennial, Asclepias tuberosa (a.k.a. Butterfly Weed) makes an excellent addition to any garden, and especially suited to butterfly gardens.
This beautiful, blazing native plant relative of milkweed family, attracts butterflies, especially Monarch butterflies.
Orange butterfly weed cuts a striking figure in the garden and it does not have milky sap like other members of its family.
This type of plant provides a very desirable alternative in areas where native milkweed may not grow well.
It is also a good addition to medicinal herb gardens as its name comes from the Greek god of healing and medicine, known as Asklepios.
Additionally, the Greek name pays tribute to legendary Greek herbalist Aesulapius.
The most popular form of butterfly weed plant is the orange milkweed variety, but it actually comes in several pretty shades including:
- Reddish Orange
- Bright Orange
- Dark Orange
These variations add a great deal of cheer and diversity to your wildflower and butterfly garden setting.
With its abundant, vigorous growth and bright cheery colors, butterfly weed, grows happily as full bushes 2 feet high and 2 feet wide, making it a joyful addition to any garden.
Apart from its flowers, it seed pods also holds a different kind of beauty.
Another notable plant from the same family is the tropical milkweed (Asclepias Curassavica).
It has become so popular among North American gardeners and monarch butterflies!
This non-native plant from North America makes the best host plant for monarch eggs.
It grows back quickly after being eaten and you can easily propagate them.
Is Butterfly Weed Hard to Grow?
Nope! This native plant grows like a weed!
In the wild, you find it on the prairie, growing in depleted pasture soil, along roadsides and on the verge of very dry forests. When you come across butterfly weed in the wild, you should leave it alone.
Even though it does reproduce fairly readily, it is never a good idea to disrupt it.
The plant provides important nourishment and resting places for very often endangered butterflies. While it is a very hardy plant that reseeds itself easily, it is not intrusive or invasive.
In fact, it spreads best by reseeding… replanting is not a very effective method of propagation for these plants.
That’s why it’s best to plant your own butterfly weed from seed.
Growing from seed is very cheap, and butterfly weed flowers during the first growing season.
There’s no need to wait for plants to establish themselves before reaping the benefits.
Because so many gardeners now recognize how beneficial butterfly weed is to the garden, seeds are very readily available online and in local garden stores.
Starting From Seed Outdoors
Start butterfly weed seed indoors or outdoors. For outdoor sowing, begin with a well-prepared bed. For best results, sow the seed late in autumn (mid-November).
Simply scatter seeds evenly in a prepared bed. Then cover seed lightly with a quarter inch of soil and water gently and deeply.
Don’t worry the cold of winter will not harm your seeds.
It is important that butterfly weed seeds experience several months of cold, moist conditions in order to germinate properly. In the springtime, your new seedlings will emerge.
Ideally, you will have planted them in their permanent location.
If not, transplant them to their permanent location before they get any taller than four inches. Remember they do not like their root systems disturbed.
It’s worth noting that you may wish to try planting butterfly weed in several different locations as it can be somewhat temperamental about conditions.
You may get less than stellar results in one part of your yard and superb results in another.
Starting From Seed Indoors
You can start butterfly weed seeds indoors. To do this, you’ll need a garden flat filled with a good quality of well-moistened germination medium.
Just as with outdoor sowing, scatter the seeds evenly over the surface and press them lightly into the soil. Cover them lightly with a quarter of an inch of germination mixture and moisten the surface thoroughly.
Once you’ve sown the seeds, put the entire flat inside of a clear plastic bag and place it in your refrigerator.
Leave it there for month to six weeks and then remove it. This keeps the seed in an area with a steady temperature of 70 to 75 degrees.
It’s important to note that you should leave the plastic bag in place until your seedlings begin to sprout.
When you expose seeds to higher temperatures they will begin to germinate. This can take three or four weeks.
If a month passes and seedlings have not shown their heads, try putting the flat back into your refrigerator for another month or so. Then take it out and try again.
When seedlings do emerge, remove the plastic bag and place the flat under a fluorescent lamp in an area where the temperature remains a steady 60 to 65 degrees.
When the seedlings have grown to one or two inches high, transplant into larger pots and continue caring for them with fluorescent lighting indoors until all danger of frost has passed.
The Dispatch shares that the Perennial Plant Association named the butterfly weed its 2017 perennial plant of the year. They shared…
That’s because butterfly weed — a top food source for both butterflies and caterpillars — has been named the perennial plant of the year for 2017 by the Perennial Plant Association, a national trade association based in Hilliard. Bees and other pollinators love it, too — as do gardeners, because it requires little care. Landscapes that feature these native beauties enjoy a steady stream of buzzing, creeping and fluttering visitors. Via dispatch.com
Handle With Care
It’s important to note that when you start your seeds indoors, you will need to transition gradually to their permanent outdoor setting.
As the days warm-up, set your seedlings outdoors in their pots in shaded areas for brief periods of time. Gradually extend the amount of time that they spend outdoors.
Also increase the amount of sunlight to which you expose them. Once plants hardened a bit and can tolerate outdoor conditions well, transplant them to their permanent setting where can enjoy the full sun.
Growing & Care Instructions
For best results, you should establish your butterfly weed garden in full sun. Be sure to choose the location carefully since plants grow very long tap roots.
Once established, moving them proves very difficult, and moving them tends to kill them.
Although this hardy native plant grows well in a wide variety of soils, the soil you provide needs good drainage.
Once well-established, butterfly weed becomes heat and drought tolerant.
Mark your established butterfly weed in your garden well. The reason? Plants take a while to emerge in the springtime.
If you don’t set a marker, you may accidentally replace them with something else before they reveal themselves in the spring.
Related Reading: Another plant to attract butterflies are the varieties of Butterfly bush – Buddleia.
Feeding Your Butterfly Weed
Remember butterfly weed grows best in well-drained soil that is not too rich and exposed to full sun.
Generally speaking, you don’t need to use synthetic fertilizers or other chemicals on your butterfly weed. It does best when nourished with natural, organic compost.
Because butterfly weed likes poor soil, you needn’t worry much about feeding it.
In the autumn, give it a light dressing of compost followed by a layer of mulch.
In the springtime, you may wish to give it a diluted dose of slow release fertilizer as a boost to get the growing season started.
The Benefits Of Butterfly Weed
Naturally, butterfly weed plant provides a good nectar source for all kinds of butterflies (Monarchs in particular). It also provides food for caterpillars that become butterflies. Birds harvest its downy silk to create nests.
In addition to being extremely beneficial to the Monarch butterfly, whose numbers are dwindling at an alarming rate, butterfly weed and milkweed plant of all types also attract:
- Eastern Tiger Swallowtail
- Pipeline Swallowtail
- Painted Ladies
Of course, you are sure to enjoy the sight of pretty butterfly weed in your garden, and because it does not have milky sap, making it an excellent cut flower.
After the flowers fade, you can get these gorgeous seed pods. The butterfly milkweed seed pods are a nice addition to autumn dry flower arrangements.
This plant also has herbal remedy applications. Native Americans used the root as a treatment for pleurisy, which is why this plant is sometimes called pleurisy root.
Very easy to grow, simple to take care of and lives for a very long time makes the Butterfly weed a very rewarding native garden plant.
Additionally, as a perennial, it comes back year after year with little or no attention from you.