Butterfly weed – info, planting, care and tips

Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa)
Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) - by Derek Ramsey

Bright orange flowers, unique fruit decoration, favorite of butterflies: the butterfly weed is an outstanding feature of natural gardens.

Profile of butterfly weed:

Scientific name: Asclepias tuberosa

Plant family: dogbane family (Apocynaceae)

Other names: butterflyweed, butterfly milkweed, butterfly love, Canada root, chieger flower, chiggerflower, fluxroot, Indian paintbrush, Indian posy, orange milkweed, orange root, orange Swallow-wort, pleurisy root, silky swallow-wort, tuber root, yellow milkweed, white-root, windroot

Sowing time: April/May or autumn

Planting time: spring

Flowering period: June to August

Harvest time: –

Location: sunny to partially shady

Soil quality: sandy to loamy, sensitive to lime, nutrient rich, humus rich

These information are for temperate climate!

Use as a medicinal herb: pneumonia, diarrhoea, rheumatism, bronchitis

Use in: flowerbeds, planters, borders, natural garden, rock garden, potted garden

Winter hardiness: hardy, USDA Plant Hardiness Zones: 8 (-10 °C / +15 °F)

Bee and insect friendly: Yes

Plant characteristics and classification of butterfly weed

Plant order, origin and occurrence of butterfly weed

The butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) is native from southern Canada to northern Mexico. The relatively hardy species grows there on dry fields or slopes. About 200 plants belong to the genus milkweeds (Asclepias), which grow either as perennials or as upright semi-shrubs and many of which can be found in America or Africa. The butterfly weed belongs to the dogbane family (Apocynaceae).

Characteristics of butterfly weed


The clump-forming deciduous butterfly weed grows between 50 and 100 centimeters (20 and 40 in) high. The unbranched, strong shoots of the perennial plant carry milky sap. This is said to have a digitalis-like effect and cause cardiovascular problems. The rootstock reaches deep into the earth.


The narrow-lanceolate, especially underneath hairy and undivided leaves are arranged in spirals at irregular intervals around the shoot. They are 10 to 14 centimeters (4 to 6 in) long, pointed, shiny and light to medium green in color. At their base they enclose the stem or have a short stalk.


The flat, terminal or axillary, up to 10 centimeters wide, umbel-like flowers are orange, sometimes also yellow and red in color. In front of the shiny green foliage, they are perfectly set in scene. The flowers of the butterfly weed exude a beguiling scent. They appear in June and bloom until early autumn. The striking flower tips, bent backwards.


The fruit capsules of Asclepias tuberosa, which sit on nodding stems, are spindle-shaped and flat. Initially green, they later turn yellow-brown. When opened, they release a tuft of long, silvery silk hairs at one end, which look very distinctive.

Butterfly weed – cultivation and care


The butterfly weed desires a sunny and bright location. However, it must be taken into consideration that the perennials should only slowly get used to the sun when they move outside from their winter quarters. Otherwise the delicate leaves could burn. The ideal location should otherwise have the following characteristics:

  • light and airy
  • without draught
  • bright winter garden for overwintering optimally
  • also a bright place in the apartment
  • temperatures should be at least 20° Celsius
  • in summer on balcony, terrace or garden
  • requires a lot of space


Especially when the butterfly weed is cultivated in a tub, it needs a nutrient-rich soil, because in a tub the nutrients are used up faster than in a garden bed. Therefore, the following mixture is the ideal substrate for the butterfly weed in the pot and in the bed:

  • nutrient rich and humus
  • slightly clayey
  • loose and permeable
  • Ideally enriched with compost
  • good garden soil in the bed is sufficient
  • use soil in the pot for flowering potted plants


Butterfly weed benefits from a protected site. A requirement for good growth is a deep, loose soil, which can be enriched with organic substances. Drainage is especially necessary when there is only the slightest sign of waterlogging in the soil. All weeds should be carefully removed before planting. Watering should be done regularly in the period after planting. The best time for planting is spring.


Watering and Fertilization

Many nutrients and an always moist soil are important for the butterfly weed to develop its beautiful inflorescences in summer. It is therefore important that the perennial is fertilized regularly. Thus, from spring to late summer, some compost is given once a month. Watering should not be neglected either, because the decorative perennial cannot tolerate dryness or waterlogging:

  • Water regularly
  • Avoid waterlogging, especially with potted plants
  • Do not let the soil dry out
  • less watering in winter
  • a handful of compost once a month


Pruning is important to ensure that the attractive perennial keeps its shape and continues to grow beautifully bushy. The ideal time for this is April. Older plants in particular have the habit of growing high, but their stems grow sparsely, hardly any leaves are formed, and they become bare. In this case a cut should be made to restore the original beauty.


It is best to divide the clusters of Asclepias tuberosa in spring to rejuvenate them. However, this is only necessary every eight to ten years at most. To divide, dig out the rootstock and divide it into individual, not too small segments, which are then replanted into the bed.


When sowing, the seeds of Asclepias tuberosa are only pressed on the growing soil. It is advisable to cultivate the seeds in seed trays from March onwards, alternatively outdoor sowing in April/May or in autumn is possible. The germination rate is increased by stratification of the seed. Cuttings can also be propagated well. Otherwise, propagation by division, as described above under Dividing, is possible too.

Diseases and pests

Plant diseases occur only rarely. Rather, too much moisture is a problem for the butterfly weed, as this causes the roots to rot.


A butterfly weed that has been planted out in the bed will benefit from being covered with a little compost in the autumn – especially black frosts can be a nuisance.

Use in the garden

The butterfly weed is often used in natural gardens in the border or in open spaces, and it also shows to advantage in stone beds. It should stand as unpressed as possible without high companions. Asclepias tuberosa can be excellently combined with grasses, purple coneflower, wild indigo (Baptisia tinctoria) or montbretia, for example, which flower at the same time. The butterfly weed also looks good in a pot on the terrace.

If the flower is used for a bouquet, gloves should be worn when cutting, as the milky juice can cause skin irritation.


The subspecies Asclepias tuberosa subsp. interior is offered as the most hardy. The variety ‘Gay Butterfly’ contains colorful yellow, orange and red-orange tones, ‘Hello Yellow’ shows rare yellow tones.

Butterfly weed as a medicinal herb

As a remedy, Asclepias tuberosa is said to have a soothing effect on pneumonia, diarrhoea and rheumatism. The leaves are used as a medicinal tea for bronchitis.

Butterfly weed can be used for these ailments and diseases

Medicinal properties

Side effects


Ask your doctor or pharmacist. Visiting this page can not replace the visit to the doctor. For serious or unclear complaints, consult your doctor.

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