Butterfly weed ( Asclepias tuberosa ) on Horton Creek - with butterflies partaking of the weed

12 Interesting Facts About Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa)

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Butterfly weed, also known as butterfly milkweed, is a beautiful wildflower that grows in prairies and meadows across North America. With its bright orange flowers that attract butterflies and other pollinators, it’s no wonder this plant is so beloved.

Here are 12 fascinating facts about this iconic prairie plant:

1. Its Genus Name Comes from Greek Mythology

The genus name for butterfly weed is Asclepias, which comes from Asklepios, the Greek god of medicine. Many plants in the Asclepias genus have been used medicinally by Native Americans.

2. The Species Name Refers to Its Taproot

The species name tuberosa refers to the plant’s tuberous, taproot. This large root stores water and nutrients, helping butterfly weed adapt to growing in dry conditions.

3. It Has a Unique Flower Color

Butterfly weed flowers range from deep red-orange to a rich yellow depending on the concentration of red pigment. The yellow comes from carotenoids. Soil type does not affect the flower color.

4. Found Across Much of the Eastern and Central U.S.

Butterfly weed grows wild from New England to South Dakota and south to Florida and Texas. It can be found in the eastern two-thirds of Kansas.

5. Doesn’t Produce Milky Sap Like Other Milkweeds

Butterfly weed is called a milkweed, but it does not exude a milky sap from its leaves or stems like other Asclepias species. This makes it easy to distinguish from common and swamp milkweed.

6. Has Silky Seed Tufts for Wind Dispersal

In fall, spindle-shaped seed pods split open, releasing seeds with long, silky white hairs that allow them to float on the wind. The tufts act like parachutes to spread the seeds.

7. Makes a Great Garden Plant

Unlike many wildflowers, butterfly weed stays neatly clumped as it grows. Its vibrant flowers and ability to thrive in hot, dry conditions make butterfly weed very garden-worthy.

8. Attracts Beneficial Insects

Butterfly weed lives up to its name, enticing beautiful butterflies like monarchs as well as bees, wasps, and hummingbirds. Its nectar-rich blossoms provide food for a wide array of pollinators.

9. Has Interesting Medicinal Uses

Native Americans used butterfly weed root as a remedy for pleurisy, rheumatism, and other ailments. The root contains cardiac glycosides that can help heart function.

10. An Important Larval Host

Monarch butterflies only lay their eggs on milkweed plants like the butterfly weed. The caterpillars that emerge feed exclusively on the milkweed leaves.

11. Can Grow in Poor, Dry Soil

A tough prairie plant, butterfly weed thrives in nutrient-poor soils and requires very little water once established. It’s an outstanding plant for xeriscaping.

12. Low-Maintenance & Long-lived Perennial

With no serious pests or diseases to trouble it, butterfly weed is easy to grow. Mature plants can live for over 10 years with proper siting and care.

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