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Orange Butterfly Weed : Food for Monarchs

14 Jun 2021 1:00 AM | Brenda Peshak

Orange Butterfly Weed

Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) is a tall, cluster perennial that forms orange clusters June to August. Tolerant of drought and poor soils, its blooms attract pollinators and its leaves attract Monarch butterfly caterpillars.  Resistant to drought and deer foraging behavior, it works well in rocky shallow soil in full sun.

Facts about Butterfly Weed:

Scientific Name : Asclepias tuberosa
Variety, cultivar, or trademark name  Butterfly weed
Bloom Time? Color?: orange blooms from June to August
Type or Average Life Span:  herbaceous perennial
Height:  12 to 30 inches
Width/Spread:  12 to 18 inches

Good things to know about Butterfly weed:

The prolific Butterfly weed thrives in a variety of soil types and under dry or moist soil conditions.  An excellent candidate for naturalized, rain and pollinator gardens, the Butterfly weed attracts butterflies with its nectar, and monarch butterfly larvae with its leaves.  Deer and drought resistant, it is a long blooming perennial for any garden.

One of nature’s showiest native wildflowers, orange butterfly weed blooms in midsummer with bright orange, yellow, or yellow-orange clusters on stalks 1-3 feet tall. In the wild, butterfly weed can be found in any sunny area, including dry and rocky sites, prairies, slopes, and roadsides—but it’s equally at home in suburban gardens. It can be found in US Hardiness Zones 3 to 9.

Milkweed is fairly easy to grow from seed or from purchased plants. Choose the planting site carefully because the long taproot makes successful transfer difficult. Full sun is best, and almost any well-drained soil will be fine. Avoid damp or wet areas, which will prove fatal.

A member of the milkweed family (one name is “orange milkweed”), butterfly weed does not have milky-sapped stems, but does feature the spindle-shaped seed pod and silky seeds associated with other milkweeds.

Plant Asclepias tuberosa  for the Monarch population:

Like many native wildflowers, butterfly weed provides more than beauty. While in bloom, it furnishes nectar for bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. Equally important–its leaves are the preferred food source for monarch larvae and the place where monarchs lay their eggs. For this reason, it is extremely important to avoid insecticides around milkweed because the plant will absorb some of the poisons—and transfer them to the larva or chrysalis. (If you see that something is chewing on the leaves, don’t spray! You’re a successful host to the next generation of monarchs!)

Milkweed is a xeric (low-water) plant and very tough once established. It resists most diseases—and deer. So for the sake of the monarchs—and for midsummer beauty—plant an orange butterfly weed! It can be found in the pollinators garden at Demonstration Garden.

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