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Plant Profile: Butterfly Weed (Ascelpias tuberosa)

Asclepias-tuberosaThis clump-forming, long-lived, herbaceous perennial is native to eastern North America where it tends to grow on dry soil in full sun . It is a member of the dogbane family (Apocynaceae) that also includes bluestar (Amsonia), periwinkle (Vinca), and oleander (Nerium). The medium green leaves are lanceolate, two to five inches long, pointed, and spirally arranged on hairy stems. The bright orange to yellow flowers appear in umbels in late spring into summer and are attractive to butterflies, hummingbirds, bees, and other beneficial insects. Each flower has five nectar cups with incurved horns. When a pollinator lands on the flower, its foots slips between the cups and catches bags of pollen on its legs. When the pollinator visits the next flower the foot slips again and the pollen bag is caught by another set of incurved horns. The flowers are followed by attractive spindle shaped seed pods three to six inches long that are filled with seeds bearing long silky hairs that facilitate dissemination by the wind. An excellent choice for a wildflower garden and the bright color of butterfly weed makes it a knockout in a formal border too. The flowers are good in fresh arrangements and the capsules are valued for dried arrangements.

Type: Herbaceous perennial

Bloom: Umbels of small orange to yellow flowers from early spring into summer

Size: 2-3’ H x 2” W

Light: Full sun

Soil: Average, medium moist to dry, well-drained

Hardiness: Zones 3-9

Care: Deadhead to encourage rebloom

Pests and Diseases: Monarch butterfly larvae feed on the leaves; susceptible to leaf spot and rust.

Propagation: Seed, root cuttings; very difficult to transplant because of deep taproot.

Companion plants: Verbena bonariensis, purple salvias such as ‘Caradonna’ and ‘May Night’, Nepeta, Threadleaf Coreopsis (Coreopsis verticiliata) ‘Zagreb’,Crocosmia, scarlet Asiatic lilies, day lilies, balloon flower