Butterfly lovers unite and rejoice; Asclepias tuberosa has been labeled the 2017 Perennial Plant of the Year™ by the Perennial Plant Association! And with good reason since this spectacular milkweed is a super-food in the butterfly world and a great addition to any garden. Here’s what you need to know about Asclepias tuberosa:
What is it?
Asclepias tuberosa, commonly know as Butterfly Weed, is native to much of the United States including Missouri. The flowers of butterfly weed are a great nectar source for butterflies while the leaves serve as a source for Monarch larvae.
Butterfly weed produces showy clusters of yellow-orange flowers from midsummer to fall and rather delicate leaves that are 2-5″ long but contain little sap when compared to other milkweed varieties. They range in size from 12″ to 30″ high with a spread of 12″ to 18″ and produce a deep taproot that does not transplant well, so make sure you plant them in an ideal location for their size and light requirements.
How do I care for Asclepias tuberosa?
Planted in full sun with well-drained soil, butterfly weed require very little maintenance once established. These drought tolerant plants suffer from little to no disease or insect problems so they don’t need chemicals, which is a must since we grow them for butterflies to feed on.
Spring: Butterfly weed plants emerge late, so a bit of patience is needed in the spring. About the time that everything else is growing strong in your garden and you’re sure that your butterfly weed is dead – that’s when they will appear. That’s also about the time they show up on garden center shelves.
Summer/fall: In the early fall, they will produce large seed heads that will split open when ripe to expose seeds with silky-tails. Butterfly weed will self-seed, so be sure to remove the seed heads if you have a limited area for them to grow. If you allow them to re-seed, the new plants will typically take 2-3 years to produce blooms so don’t be surprised when you don’t see blooms right away.
Winter: Mulch the plants in the winter but wait until the spring to cut the dead foliage back. Doing this will help protect the crown of the plant.
Where can I plant Asclepias tuberosa?
A garden with full sun and well-drained soil are the only requirements needed for butterfly weed to shine. Whether planted en masse in a formal garden or as nature intended in a wildflower garden; butterfly weed’s tidy appearance make them quite versatile.
Other interesting tidbits….
In Colonial times, butterfly weed was used as a treatment for coughing and swelling of the lungs (pleurisy), earning the common name – Pleurisy Root. Not so long ago, Pleurisy Root was still in use and was listed as an official medicine in the United States Pharmacopoeia from 1820 to 1905. Today, it can still be found through companies that sell herbal remedies. In fact, the genus Asclepias is an homage to the Greek god of medicine, Asklepios.
What can I plant with Asclepias tuberosa for a great Butterfly Garden?
A great butterfly garden not only provides a food source for butterflies but provides that source from spring to fall. What does this mean to you? Plant plenty of variety so you have continual blooms the entire growing season. Here are a few plants to begin growing a spectacular butterfly garden!
- Aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) – fall
- Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia) – summer to fall
- Blazing Star (Liatris) – summer to fall
- Blue Indigo (Baptisia australis) – spring
- Butterfly Bush (Buddleja) – summer to fall
- Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa) – summer
- Coneflower (Echinacea) – summer
- Coreopsis (Coreopsis) – summer to fall
- Joe-pye Weed (Eupatorium) – fall
- Yarrow (Achillea) – spring to fall