The Dirt Diva

Tailoring your garden to your needs!

Plant Spotlight: Asclepias


Each month I’ll feature a different plant for the flower garden chosen for its beauty and unique beneficial qualities.

Butterfly weed, Milkweed & Pluerisy root, are all different names for members of the Asclepias genus, pronounced Ass-KLE-pee-us.

Asclepias tuberosa

Asclepias tuberosa

Asclepias is in the spotlight because:

1. they are a major food source for monarch butterfly larvae and adults, pollinating moths, bees and flies,

2.  there are varieties suitable for sunny, dry sites, as well as for moist sites,

3. they have a fragrant showy flower that looks great in a meadow garden and

4. they are native to North America.

The orange and yellow flowering varieties, (Asclepias tuberosa) like dry sunny sites and reach about 2 feet once established.The pink flowering species are quite a bit taller, in the 4-5′ range, and some tolerate dry sites while others prefer sites with regular moisture, like ditches, trenches and the bottom of a sunny slope.

Monarchs and the Asclepias species, of which there are 80 documented species, have a unique evolutionary relationship. Of the 80 known species of Asclepias, seven are native to our region of the country, and this is important to know if you truly want to take part in restoring habitat for our winged friends in peril. Those seven species are: incarnata, purpurascens, quadrifolia, syriaca, tuberosa,  verticillata and viridiflora. (Source, BONAP)

Monarchs resting on tree mid migration

Monarchs resting on tree mid migration

The annual migration of North America’s monarch butterfly is a unique and amazing phenomenon. The monarch is the only butterfly known to make a two-way migration as birds do. Unlike other butterflies that can overwinter as larvae, pupae, or even as adults in some species, monarchs cannot survive the cold winters of northern climates. Using environmental cues, the monarchs know when it is time to travel south for the winter. Monarchs use a combination of air currents and thermals to travel long distances. Some fly as far as 3,000 miles to reach their winter home! (Source, USDA Forest Service)

monarch caterpillar feeding on milkweed

monarch caterpillar feeding on milkweed

Asclepias, particularly the Milkweed types, contain cardenolides (cardiac glycosides) in their milky latex-like sap. Monarch caterpillars eat the plants, ingest the toxins in the sap, and as a result become toxic to predators such as birds. Survival tactic!

Milkweeds are the sole food source for the larvae for this reason.

Where to find native species of Asclepias? to locate a nursery near you that supplies native plants such as Asclepias, visit and enter your state in the search bar. Up will pop a list of nurseries in your state!

Asclepias incarnata close up

Asclepias incarnata close up

Here’s a short set of steps to follow to prepare a site for Asclepias and other pollinator plants:

I especially like this page for the photo of the planted parking lot strip! You don’t need a ton of room to plant Asclepias.

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