Asclepias tuberosa

Description & Overview

Butterflyweed, Asclepias tuberosa, also known as Butterfly Milkweed, Orange Milkweed, Pleurisy Root, Chigger Flower is a slow-to-emerge Wisconsin native perennial bearing fragrant clusters of vibrant orange flowers that attract a plethora of butterflies, beneficial insects, and bees. Plant in multiples to really draw in pollinators and watch your garden buzz with activity!

Core Characteristics

Mature Height: 2-3 feet
Mature Spread: 9-18 inches
Growth Rate: Perennial
Growth Form: Clumping
Light Requirements: Full Sun to Partial Shade
Site Requirements: Dry, well-drained soil. Drought tolerant once established.
Flower: Orange, fragrant
Bloom Period: June-July
Foliage: Green, lance shaped
Fall Color: N/A
Fruit Notes: Seed Pod, maturing in Fall

Suggested Uses:

Butterflyweed is naturally found in sandy prairies and savannas but can tolerate rich and moist soil as long as they are planted correctly. Use along border fronts or plant in front of taller species in native and butterfly gardens. The ornamental seed pods are great in dried floral arrangements and are wonderful in a cut flower garden. Combine with other brightly colored flowers such as coneflowers, rudbeckia, and blazing star for that “wow” effect.

Wildlife Value:

While Butterflyweed lacks the typical thick, milky latex of other milkweeds, it is still of high value to native pollinators and Ruby-throated hummingbirds. It is a larval host to the Monarch, Grey Hairstreak, and Queen butterflies, and supports many others with ample nectar. Long-tongued bees including honeybees, long-horned bees, leafcutter, and cuckoo bees are frequent visitors, as well as sweat bees of the short-tongued variety.

Maintenance Tips:

The heavy clay soil commonly found in Southeast Wisconsin means Butterflyweed requires special care when planting. When planting, create a little berm of soil to raise it up and allow better drainage. Use bark mulch to protect the roots through the winter. Be prepared for them to take a few years to truly establish. The soil needs to warm to a specific temperature in spring to break dormancy, so don’t despair if they aren’t popping up right away. They are worth the wait!


Butterflyweed can get aphids, but using insecticides can kill beneficial insects as well (like Monarchs). Biological Controls like Ladybugs can eat the aphids and resolve the issue naturally. However, if the infestation is heavy an insecticidal soap can be used as long as care is taken to not spray pollinators.

Leaf Lore:

The genus Asclepias is named after the Greek god of healing, Asklepios, the originator of the staff and serpent commonly associated with medicine today. The specific epithet tuberosa means tuberous in reference to the roots.

The roots of Butterflyweed have been used by First Nations People as a medicinal plant for pleurisy and other pulmonary ailments (giving it its other common name of Pleurisy Root). All other parts of the plant are toxic when eaten in large quantities.

In the Second World War, Butterflyweed was grown for the specific purpose of using the seed floss for life vests! According to the Xerces Society in their book “100 Plants to Feed the Monarch,” large populations can still be found in areas of the Great Lakes where milkweed seed floss-processing plants once stood.

Companion Plants:

Plant Butterflyweed alongside shorter native grasses including:

Combine with other perennials such as:

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