Butterfly Milkweed – Asclepias tuberosa
Butterfly sightings have become common in the garden these past few weeks. Butterflies are among the most charismatic of insects and are easy to attract to a garden. The key is to provide a wide variety of flowering plants that produce abundant nectar. One such plant is Asclepias tuberosa. Its common name, butterfly milkweed, demonstrates just how appealing to butterflies it is.
Butterfly milkweed is native to much of the midwestern and eastern United States where it mainly grows on dry, well-drained sites. It is related to over 140 other milkweed species, but unlike most other milkweeds, it does not contain milky sap in its stems. For this reason, it is often known simply as butterfly weed. The plant is multi-stemmed and reaches a height of 1-3 feet. The leaves are alternately arranged, narrow, lance-shaped, and deep green. Stems are topped with clusters of small orange flowers, which are sometimes shades of yellow or red. Flowering occurs throughout the summer.
Like many milkweeds, butterfly milkweed is a larval host plant for monarch butterflies. It is a host plant for other butterflies as well, including gray hairstreaks and queens. Hummingbirds are also attracted to the flowers, as well as bees and other insect pollinators.
Butterfly milkweed can be found in various sites throughout the Idaho Botanical Garden, including the Water Conservation Landscape, Western Waterwise Garden, and Mike’s Garden in Foothills Grove. Showy milkweed (Asclepias speciosa) is a milkweed that is native to Idaho and can be found in the Children’s Adventure Garden, Idaho Native Plant Garden, and Lewis and Clark Native Plant Garden.
Interested in starting your own butterfly garden? Check out this guide produced by Missouri Botanical Garden.
Written by IBG horticulturist, Daniel Murphy.