Pictured above: Butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa) by Mary Keim. Click on terms for botanical definitions. View post as a PDF.

Butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa) is a perennial that occurs naturally in sandhills, pine flatwoods, and other sandy uplands as well as along sunny roadsides. It is the larval host of Monarch, Queen and Soldier butterflies. Learn more about Monarchs and Milkweed in Florida here. It blooms spring through fall, attracting hummingbirds, bees and other pollinators.

Butterflyweed in bloom and bud. Photo by Mary Keim

Butterflyweed’s bright orange to reddish flowers are born in showy terminal umbels. Each flower has a reflexed corolla and an upright corona — a characteristic typical of milkweed flowers. Stems are rough to hairy. Leaves are coarse, narrowly ovate to lanceolate, and oppositely arrangedSeeds are born in erect follicles that dry and split open as the fruit matures. Each seed is attached to a white silky pappus that catches the wind and aids in dispersal.

Florida has two subspecies: A. tuberosa ssp. rolfsii is less bushy, has wavy leaf margins, and occurs throughout Florida. A. tuberosa ssp. tuberosa has flatter, narrow leaves and is often found in woodlands in northern Florida.

Asclepias tuberosa is an exception to the Asclepias genus in that its stem does not contain the milky latex that distinguishes the rest of the genus and gives it the common name “milkweed.”

Butterflyweed is sometimes referred to as pleurisy root because Native Americans chewed the root of the plant to treat pleurisy. Today, it is commercially available as an extract and as a dried root powder.

Family: Apocynaceae (Dogbane family)
Native range: Nearly throughout
To see where natural populations of Butterflyweed have been vouchered, visit florida.plantatlas.usf.edu.
Lifespan: Perennial
Soil: Dry, well-drained sandy soil
Exposure: Full sun
Growth habit: 1–3’ tall, with 1–2’ spread
Propagation: Cuttings, division, seed. Seeds can be stored in the refrigerator for a couple of months. Germinate on top of soil and cover lightly. Once sprouted, seedlings should be potted and allowed to grow to 3 inches before transplanting.
Florida regions of landscape suitability: North, Central, South
Garden tips: Butterflyweed is an excellent addition to butterfly gardens as well as any dry, hot landscape. The Florida subspecies tends to be less bushy than its northern counterpart.
Caution: Do not confuse this plant with the nonnative Tropical milkweed (A. curassavica), which is typically sold at big box retail garden centers. Tropical milkweed does not die back in winter in Florida (as do native milkweeds) and can encourage overwintering in adult Monarchs. It is also linked to the transmission of the Ophryocystis elektroscirrha (OE) infection.

Seeds may be available through the Florida Wildflowers Growers Cooperative. Plants are often available at nurseries that specialize in native plants. Visit PlantRealFlorida.org to find a native nursery on your area.

Learn more about Butterflyweed from the Florida Native Plant Society and the Institute for Regional Conservation.

For information on other Asclepias species, see these resources:

Clasping milkweed

Clasping milkweed (Asclepias amplexicaulis) is a late spring- through summer- blooming milkweed that occurs in dry sandy areas from sandhills to pine savannahs, open woodlands and fallow fields.
Read more… Clasping milkweed

Florida milkweed

Florida milkweed (Asclepias feayi) is a dainty endemic at home in the sandhills and scrubby flatwoods of Central and South Florida. It emerges from winter dormancy in spring and typically blooms mid-summer.
Read more… Florida milkweed

Fewflower milkweed

Fewflower milkweed (Asclepias lanceolata) is a delicate wildflower found in swamps and moist to wet pinelands and prairies throughout Florida. Its stunning orange flowers typically bloom late spring through fall.
Read more… Fewflower milkweed

Swamp milkweed

Swamp milkweed (Asclepias perennis) blooms in late spring through early fall and attracts many pollinators. It is a larval host plant for Monarch, Queen and Soldier butterflies.
Read more… Swamp milkweed
Hummingbird clearwing (Hemaris thysbe) on Swamp milkweed, Asclepias incarnata

Swamp milkweed

Swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata ) has showy pink flowers that typically bloom in summer and attract many pollinators. It occurs naturally in floodplain swamps, hydric hammocks, wet pine flatwoods and marshes.
Read more… Swamp milkweed
Savannah milkweed's greenish-yellow, urn-shaped flowers

Savannah milkweed

With its diminutive stature and greenish-yellow flowers, Savannah milkweed (Asclepias pedicellata) is oft overlooked in its native pineland and prairie habitats. It blooms late spring through fall, peaking in summer.
Read more… Savannah milkweed
Green antelopehorn in flower.

Green antelopehorn

Green antelopehorn (Asclepias viridis) is an herbaceous perennial wildflower found in pinelands, pine rocklands and disturbed areas in a few Florida counties. It flowers winter through summer, with peak blooms in spring.
Read more… Green antelopehorn

Longleaf milkweed

Longleaf milkweed (Asclepias longifolia ) is a deciduous perennial wildflower that occurs naturally in bogs, moist to wet flatwoods and prairies. It typically blooms in spring but may bloom well into summer or early fall.
Read more… Longleaf milkweed
Whorled milkweed in flower.

Whorled milkweed

Whorled milkweed (Asclepias verticillata ) is one of the smaller, more delicate native milkweeds and is easily overlooked when not in bloom. It flowers late spring through summer and into early fall.
Read more… Whorled milkweed