FACT SHEET: Butterfly Milkweed

click picture for larger version

Common Name: Butterfly Milkweed
Other Common Names: Pleurisy Root, Butterfly Weed, Orange Milkweed
Scientific Name: Asclepias tuberosa
Family: Milkweed Family (Asclepiadaceae)
Distribution: common and widely distributed throughout central North America
Habitat: mountain brush, pinyon-juniper woodland, and ponderosa pine communities

Habit: perennial herb
Height: 1-1.5'
Spread: 1-1.5'
Foliage Color: bright green
Leaves: opposite, lance-shaped, ca. ½ inch wide
Flower Color: orange
Flower Form: typical milkweed flowers, with corona as well as petals and sepals, ca. 1/4 inch across, borne in showy terminal sprays
Flowering Season: midsummer

Cultural Requirements: Prefers full sun but tolerates partial shade; fully cold- hardy, drought-hardy but responds well to some watering; tolerates a range of soil types.

Culture: Butterfly milkweed seeds are germinable without any pretreatment but require warm temperatures to germinate. The plants are easy to produce as container stock and often flower the first year. Because of the elongate tuber that soon forms, long, slender planting containers are best. Field sowing should take place from late spring to late summer, when the nights are warm, as the seeds do not overwinter well. Supplemental water during establishment is helpful in northern Utah. This plant shows little tendency to seed itself, but once established it is long lived.

Uses and Notes of Interest: This handsome perennial is a familiar component of prairie wildflower mixes, but it is also native across southern Utah's canyon country. Unlike most milkweeds, its sap is not milky. It truly does attract butterflies, and also has traditional uses as a medicinal. It flowers late, providing color when few other natives are in flower. The slender, elongate pods split along one side to liberate the large, flat seeds, each with a long tuft of hair on the end. The pods may be picked when just splitting open and allowed to dry in a paper bag. Be careful when you open the bag--seeds will try to fly out. Firm hand-rubbing removes the hair tufts and makes the seeds more manageable.