Butterfly Weed-Asclepias tuberosa

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A Daliesque mustache shaped seedpod plucked from a sad looking plant on the racks at the big box store late in the growing season is how it all began.

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There was plenty of blank space in the garden then. A square of earth was scratched up and the seeds, still attached to their fluffly conveyances were spread about and lightly covered, watered well, then completely forgotten.

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The next spring as poking and prodding happened in what was to become the Azalea Walk, the sturdy but short, hairy stems were noticed in a square patch. Ah, yes, those seeds of butterfly weed that were planted last fall, Asclepias tuberosa, we remembered. It was a couple more years before the young wildflowers achieved blooming size, they are slow growers.

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Asclepias tuberosa is most often noticed as a beacon of bright orange in fields and along roadsides. They are never seen growing in great swaths but rather as a handful dotting here and there amongst the wild grasses like exclamatory punctuation devices. Above shot taken in 2008 of a plant growing along the roadside out in the country where I live, Southeast Tennessee. I am standing so as to make a shadow over the flowers.

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Said to prefer dry, rocky soil and full sun, we have that, seeds have been sown from both saved and purchased to expand the collection. A yellow flowered plant emerged from a packet of mixed seed, as well as a darker reddish orange. Last year a half tray of seedlings were purchased from Prairie Moon Nursery to speed up the swath so longed for, even if it does not occur that way in nature. Those are still small, not yet blooming size. Someday. Gardening is about patience and the passage of time.

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Once the mature size has been reached the buds will form, swell and show color for weeks before the flowers open. On that fine day, nearly to the moment of the big reveal, there are great spangled fritillary butterflies looping lustily on the lusciousness. It is a moment I also anticipate, with camera in tow.

The numbers of butterflies are down this year and the past few, way down from the first year of blooming from those secretly snitched seeds in 2008, shown above and 2009, the photo before. I remember counting as many as sixteen butterflies all fluttering and feasting before losing track of who had been counted and who had not. It was a delirious spectacle.

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This year there were but two diners, but that is enough for an increase in population, if everything is as it should be for romantic interludes. Let us hope that love is in the air…

Some plant info from Mobot, Missouri Botanical Garden:

Type: Herbaceous perennial
Family: Apocynaceae
Zone: 3 to 9
Native Range: Eastern and southern United States
Height: 1 to 2.5 feet
Spread: 1 to 1.5 feet
Bloom Time: June to August
Bloom Color: Orange, Yellow
Sun: Full sun
Water: Dry to medium
Maintenance: Low
Flowers: Showy Flowers
Wildlife: Attracts Butterflies
Tolerates: Dry Soil, Shallow, Rocky Soil, Drought, Deer resistant
Uses: Erosion Control, Rain Garden, Will Naturalize
Taprooted, does not transplant well. (I have moved the very small seedlings with success with lots of watering.)


This is to be considered as a posting for my dear chum Gail of Clay and Limestone’s Wildflower Wednesday. The fourth Wednesday of each month is so designated, but really, anytime is a good time to think about wildflowers.


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25 Responses to Butterfly Weed-Asclepias tuberosa

  1. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    Such a beautiful plant. I didn’t know there was a red variety. I hope you post a picture of it when it finally blooms. I know it does best in full sun but I have had some in a relative shady spot and they grow bloom and produce seeds.

    Hi Lisa, thanks for stopping by. I have a reddish orange plant from the mixed seed packet that has been blooming for a few years now. It is not as vigorous as the others, though. Glad to know that a little shade doesn’t slow the blooming down!

  2. Lea says:

    Such a lovely wildflower!
    I bought a plant already in flower in the Spring. It has been constantly blooming ever since. And I am excited to see seed pods forming!
    I, too, have noticed only a small number of butterflies this year.
    Beautiful photos!
    Happy Wildflower Wednesday!
    Lea’s Menagerie

    Hi Lea, thanks for visiting. How wonderful that your butterfly weed has been such a good bloomer. It has been wetter than usual here, I am hoping that merely postponed the butterflies and look forward to seeing more later. Happy WW to you!

  3. bittster says:

    I love the color of he butterfly weed and the butterflies really top it off! I can understand why you would want swaths of this plant.
    My tiny plants transplanted last year look fine, but only one will bloom this season. Your pictures make me happy I have a few more seedlings coming along this summer 🙂

    Hi Bittster, thanks for stopping by. Good deal on your babies and even one blooming is a thrill. They do seem to be slow to grow, maybe working on developing a good root system. Good luck and you have inspired me to save more seed for even more!

  4. Lovely photos. I love this plant but it’s been puzzling in my garden. My stand is now pretty large but I’ve never had a good show of butterflies. And for the past two years, it has formed beautiful clusters of buds that then fall off (or are eaten off?) before they can mature. No one seems to know why. Ah the mysteries of nature.

    Hi Sarah, thanks for sharing in the conversation here. That is puzzling about the buds falling off, but it happens here to daylilies and many other plants for no known reason. I have found that these plants like more water when they are blooming.

  5. Georgia Burns says:

    Thank you, Frances, for more details on this beautiful plant. I fell in love with it in a previous blog of yours and kept the name in my purse for a long time hoping to come across it in my wanderings through various nurseries. No luck. Now I will try the seed racks. I had that butterfly mob experience with Joe Pye weed in a bigger yard of my past. What a thrill!

    Hi Georgia, thanks for adding to this conversation. Every now and then the big box stores carry this butterfly plant, we must constantly be on the lookout, but seeds are easier to find, usually. I know about the Joe Pye experience, how wonderful for you!

  6. Very pretty, and brings butterflies. 🙂
    If that’s the next bloom cycle after azaleas, that would be a fab dramatic color jump to match the change from spring to summer.

    Hi Wren, thanks for visiting. There is a gap of blooming between the azaleas and these plants, filled by iris, astilbe, asiatic lilies and a bunch of others too numerous to mention, or think of at the moment. My garden goes from the pastels of spring to the hot colors as the seasons change, though.

  7. What a glorious picture to set the mood for today’s topic. I learned the hard way that Asclepias doesn’t take to being transplanted from its naturally chosen home in my hay pasture to my garden so I have accepted enjoying it from a distance.

    Hi Michaele, thanks. Try to grab some of those moustache shaped seed pods from your wild plants and sow them in a garden bed!

  8. Diane says:

    I started some of these several years ago from seed. I have a big patch of them in my front yard garden now. they are covered in blossoms this year. Unfortunately we have had very few butterflies so far this year. 😦

    I usually try to take the seed pods off so they don’t keep spreading where I don’t want them. I have them in several areas around my yard now, some sunny, some shady. I have shared them with many people over the years.

    Hi Diane, thanks for sharing that good information here. Lucky you to have to pull unwanted seedlings! Your garden must be very much to this plant’s liking.

  9. Rose says:

    Your photos are beautiful, and the butterfly weed is perfectly accessorized with these magnificent butterflies. But it is your prose as much as your photos that always leaves me smiling, Frances. You have such a way with words–“A Daliesque mustache shaped seedpod”–what an image!

    i noticed my butterfly weeds are multiplying a bit, though as you say, it is a slow process. I just wish we had more butterflies this year to enjoy them.

    Oh Rose, thank you! I was hesitant about the Dali reference, and no ones else has commented about it. I am so glad you liked it. Fewer butterflies is a sad thing, and fewer bees, too. I am hoping there will be more later in the season, usually fall is our big butterfly blast.

  10. Alberto says:

    Hi Frances, what a beautiful post and pictures! I love asclepias tuberosa, although I always fear it doesn’t like drought in summer, I have a white one ‘Ice Ballet’ that I’m keeping potted to control the water level and even so it’s loosing its flowers. This last one shall not be a tuberosa, though. I shall give it a try. I also love it with that dark purple salvia (?), in the first picture, what variety is it?

    Hi Alberto, thanks for adding to the talk here. Ice Ballet is a different species than A. tuberosa and does need more moisture. The darker flower is a spent Astible ‘Fanal’ that blooms red. I like the mix and the astilbes help hold up the butterfly weed which can sometimes get floppy.

  11. Great post, great plant, great photos. I love this plant, and am also working on a larger swath. Sadly we have seen very few butterflies this year.

    Hi Jason, thanks for visiting. I hope you get more butterflies later on in the season, and they we do, too.

  12. gail says:

    Frances, Your photos and story are divine! It looks to me as if you are on the way to having a very nice swath of butterfly weed and butterflies! I’ve been planting it like crazy, but need to give the seeds a try, too. Happiest of summer days and may all your wildflowers bring in the pollinators! xoxogail

    Hi Gail, thanks for your support! I need to follow my own advice and do a better job of planting the seeds, too.

  13. chbo1 says:

    You have wonderful photos on your blog! We would love for you to become an author at wildlifehub (wildlifepic.wordpress.com). Email wildlifehub@yahoo.com for more information.

    Thanks for the kind words and offer. I prefer to blog alone, however.

  14. Shirley says:

    What a fantastic native plant to have for the butterflies. Hot, rocky soil and deer resistant means that even though it is not native in my part of Texas, I might give it a try.

    Hi Shirley, thanks for visiting. I hope you are able to grow this where you garden. It is a gorgeous plant, beloved by the butterflies.

  15. Norma says:

    I also have several patches of the butterfly weed. After reading this post and the comments, I realized I haven’t seen any butterflies and not many bees on mine either! Usually, the plants are covered with butterflies and bees . .wonder where they are? I love the bright orange color. Really pulls the eye! I like your idea of a swath of them . .

    Hi Norma, thanks for sharing here. It is alarming about the fewer numbers of bees and butterflies. I hope more show up later in the season for all of us!

    • Diane says:

      I have seen very few bees so far this year. So far until yesterday i had mostly bee mimics. Yesterday I saw my first honeybee and today there were a few more and also a bumblebee. I have not seen one Monarch yet and only two Swallowtails. This is very sad that they are not around. I live near Grand Rapids, MI. Normally at this time my Butterfly Weed and Lavender are covered in bees.

      That is distressing, Diane, I am sorry to hear that you are also without as many pollinators as usual. We normally do not see monarchs until fall and only a few then since we are not on the flight path for them. We do usually have very many bees of all types, and do have some but not the large numbers from past years. Let us hope things improve.

  16. Hannah says:

    I so much want to grow this. I ordered one mailorder this year and it is a tiny thing, still only 2-3″ tall, and now things are starting to warm up and transplanting times are drawing to a close, but I’m afraid to plant it out, especially on my dry front bank. Any encouragement? Your photos are so lovely, I want to have more butterfly plants.

    Hi Hannah, thanks for joining the conversation here. I have found that most plants prefer to be in the ground. Maybe you could plant it somewhere close to your paths so you can keep an eye on it?

  17. My A. tuberosa really started to take off this year, Frances. It’s now made 3 or 4 separate clumps in each little corner garden on either side of the garden. I kind of like the splash of orange. I also just recently added the yellow variety to my back gardens. Love all of your shots 🙂

    Hi Jan, thanks for sharing here. Good deal on your success with the butterfly weed! I love orange and have found it mixes very well with reds, yellows and purples, the hot colors.

  18. Les says:

    The country road leading to my parents house is usually ablaze with this plant in early summer. I have never understood why it congregates towards the ditches where it could get flooded.

    Hi Les, thanks for visiting. Here, too, the butterfly weeds seems to do best in the ditches and/or wetter fields. I give mine more water in dry times. It is not dry so far this year in my neck of the woods, though.

  19. Karen says:

    Beautiful post and images, this plant is one to treasure.

    Hi Karen, thanks for stopping by. This is one of my favorite plants for many reasons.

  20. My new A. tuberosas–one orange, one yellow–are surviving but not thriving yet. The yellow one seems to be doing better than the orange. I hope to see at least a couple of butterflies on them before the season is out. Your photos are beautiful, as always. Happy Wildflower Wednesday!

    Hi Beth, thanks for sharing here. I hope your butterfly weeds grow and prosper. They do seem to take a while to get going, years even. May you have butterflies soon! Happy WW to you!

  21. Robin Ripley says:

    Love the butterfly weed. I just added some this year to my garden!

    Hi Robin, thanks for stopping by. May your butterfly weed grow strong and attract many flutterbies!

  22. pearlmaple says:

    great post celebrating the joys of summer and the great out doors


  23. While trying to keep my garden with a color scheme, it was decided that orange should be eliminated. But then I realized that butterfly weed would not fit! I do have swamp milkweed that blooms pink, and pink does fit into the pink, purple, yellow theme. But will it be enough to keep the butterflies happy?

    Hi Robin, thanks for visiting and welcome! No orange? Oh, the horrors! HA Actually, I understand about having color schemes and have themed beds known as the Yellow/White Garden, the Black Garden, etc. It was decided that the Butterfly Garden would also be the Orange garden with butterfly weed being the anchor plant. Orange and red daylilies, red goes very well with orange, and purples for accent have turned it into one of the prettiest spots on the property. You need such a spot!

  24. Diana Studer says:

    I’ll take your post as a prompt to finally get around to at least scattering those miklweed seeds I have. Sad to see butterfly numbers dwindling.

    Hi Diana, thanks for visiting. Yes, do scatter your milkweed seeds. I have a free packet that needs scattering as well!

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