Butterfly Weed

Asclepias tuberosa Apocynaceae

Other names

Pleurisy Root, Tuberroot, Indian Paintbrush, Chigger Flower, Orange Milkweed

Growth habit


Native distribution

Native to the Finger Lakes Region, New Engl. to ND, South to FL, AZ and Northern Mex.


A 1-3' tall plant with orange flowers. Long-lived but resents being transplanted once established. Light: sun to light shade Moisture and Soil: well-drained soil

Biocultural value

The Cherokee used orange milkweed's fibrous stems to make belts and prescribed various parts of the plant for stomach pains, diarrhea, heart trouble, and lung inflammation. The Haudenosaunee applied a poultice of mashed roots to the legs of runners to give them strength and used an infusion of roots to wash a person's arms and shoulders to help with lifting. The plant was also used medicinally among the Rappahannock, Ponca, Omaha, Navajo, Mohegan, Menominee, and Delaware.

Wildlife value

Many bee, wasp, butterfly and beetle species visit butterfly weed for nectar and inadvertently spread pollinia (sacs of pollen) between flowers. Butterfly weed is a larval host plant for the milkweed-specialist monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus), queen butterfly (Danaus gilippus), and milkweed tussock moth (Euchaetes egle). Monarch caterpillars feed on both the foliage and flowers of butterfly weed, while the adults collect nectar and lay eggs on the underside of the leaves. Sulphur butterflies (Colias spp.), crescent butterflies (Phyciodes spp.) and great spangles fritillaries (Speyeria cybele) all visit the flowers for nectar.



Poisonous description

Like many other members of the milkweed genus, butterfly weed contains cardiotoxic and neurotoxic cardenolides, although in very small amounts. An animal would have to eat approximately 2% of its body weight in butterfly weed before it would die.


Mundy Wildflower Garden, Houston and Grossman Ponds, Hillside Garden, Coy Glen

Source of plant

Cornell Botanic Gardens, Bluebird Nursery Inc., Agway , Holland Bulb Farms, North Creek Nurseries, Lazy S's Farm Nursery, Thompson & Morgan, Richters


Erect, largely hispidulous perennial; stems simple, robust, crowded, reaching 0.75-2 m in height. Roots tuberous, the rootstock becoming woody with age. Leaves to 11.5 cm long, narrow-lanceolate, crowded, loosely spirally arranged on stem. Inflorescence an axillary, flat-topped cyme; corolla lobes yellow, orange, or vermillion, the hoods stalked.

USDA Hardiness Zone


Special characteristics

medicinal/pharmaceutical, flower color