While traveling in Arkansas last week, we came across a lot of this beautiful native wildflower blooming all along the roadsides.
Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) is one of the most showy of our summer blooming wildflowers. We used to have a lot growing right here in Smith County, but because of early summer mowing, it is nearly all gone. What a shame, too, since monarchs and many other butterflies love it.
Asclepias tuberosa is a milkweed, as you can promptly tell when you bend a stem of the plant. A white milky substance comes from it. Butterfly weed is a better name since it is usually covered with butterflies, providing them with a great source of nectar.
Growing butterfly weed requires diligence on the gardener’s part to mark its space. It will go completely dormant in winter, and you may forget it is there and destroy it without knowing.
You sometimes see this Asclepias for sale in small pots, and it always looks stringy and pitiful. It can be hard to make yourself want to buy one, but please do. Give it a place in the sun or part shade and good, well-drained soil and about three years to grow into a decent plant. It will knock your socks off.
Butterfly weed puts down deep tap roots the first couple of years and grow very little on top. Be patient! It is a perennial and requires its three years to mature. Actually, the longer it grows, the larger and more beautiful it becomes.
Because of its long tap root, butterfly weed will take unmitigated drought and also will survive heavy rains. I have seen these plants in bright red-orange, light orange and school-bus yellow. I personally love the red-orange best because it is so showy.
Look for butterfly weed as you travel our Texas highways, but please do not try to dig it. The root is entirely too long to get, and digging it while it is blooming is a sure way to kill it.
Dee Bishop is a Smith County Master Gardener. She writes about plants growing within the Tyler Rose Garden.