Plants of the Prairie: Butterfly Milkweed

Scientific Name: Asclepius tuberosa

Butterfly Weed in GDS Prairie #1

Butterfly Weed, or Butterfly Milkweed is a real stunner in the prairie. The bold, orange flowers can be seen from hundreds of yards away in mid-summer, conspicuous in a sea of green. When grown in the garden, you’d be forgiven for mistaking them for a cultivated flower. Unlike common milkweed, it does not bleed white sap when broken and its stems are covered in small hairs. The leaves are slender and lance-shaped, radiating directly from the stems of the plant.

Despite its name, I have not found a Monarch egg or caterpillar on my Butterfly Weed, and haven’t noticed that any butterflies particularly like the flowers. Curious, I did a little research. An ARS study noticed the same: Tellus | Which Milkweeds Do Monarch Butterflies Prefer? | USDA-ARS. When it comes to Milkweed, they found, Monarchs prefer the Common and Swamp varieties, even if humans are drawn to the fabulous orange flowers of Butterfly Weed.

Butterfly weed is gorgeous in the garden and apparently makes for a long-lasting cut flower (although I personally always enjoy it in place in the garden). It can be used to make medicines for lung issues. In terms of toxicity, sources from Penn State indicate that its toxins are more likely to cause neurological issues than GI issues, in case that is reassuring to you. I’m pretty sure it isn’t to me. In The Forager’s Harvest, Samuel Thayer claims that with the right cooking and preparation most people can eat milkweed without issue and that it can make for a delicious wild plant.

Butterfly Weed in the Garden

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