Floridata Plant Encyclopedia

A Floridata Plant Profile 292 Asclepias tuberosa

Common Names: butterfly weed, butterfly milkweed, pleurisy root Family: Asclepiadaceae (milkweed Family)
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butterfly weed flower
The beautiful butterfly weed flower provides a spectacular dining venue for butterflies of many persuasions!


Butterfly weed is a 2 ft (0.6 m) tall herbaceous perennial that dies back in winter and re-sprouts from its underground tuber each spring. The brilliant orange or red flower clusters appear in midsummer. These are followed by attractive green pods that open to release silky "parachutes" to drift away on autumn winds. Butterfly weed is unique among milkweeds in that the sap is not milky and the leaves are not opposite.

Many flowers have an inner whorl of petals, called the corolla, and an outer whorl of sepals, called the calyx. These are the showy, colorful parts of a typical flower. The milkweeds are special: they have a third whorl above the corolla called the corona.


Butterfly weed occurs naturally in open woods and fields throughout the US east of the Rocky Mountains. It prefers well-drained sandy soils.


Butterfly weed is a trouble free perennial that will come up year after year in the same place without crowding its neighbors. Light: Prefers full sun but can tolerate partial shade. Moisture: Tolerates drought. Hardiness: USDA Zones 4 - 10. Propagation: By seed or you can divide tubers in spring.


Plant butterfly weed in mixed borders, meadows and natural areas. Butterfly weed is slow to emerge in spring, so you may want to mark where they are.

butterfly weed
The showy butterfly weed is at home in fields and meadows as well as flower gardens.


The caterpillars of monarch butterflies (they're the ones that migrate to Mexico each winter) feed only on milkweed foliage. Adult butterflies of many species sip nectar from the beautiful blossoms of butterfly weed.

The roots of butterfly weed are said to increase fluidity of mucus in lungs and bronchial tubes, hence the common name, pleurisy root.


Despite its reported medicinal uses, most parts of butterfly weed probably are toxic. Do not ingest this plant.

Steve Christman 11/27/1999, 02/24/00, 05/21/03, 9/13/03

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Asclepias species profiled on Floridata:

Asclepias curassavica

( scarlet milkweed, bloodflower, silkweed, Indian root )

Asclepias tuberosa

( butterfly weed, butterfly milkweed, pleurisy root )

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