Garden Oracle / Drought and Heat Tolerant Gardening / Tucson - Phoenix - Arizona - California

Growing Asclepias tuberosa:
Butterfly Milkweed

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Form: Herb.
Lifespan: Perennial.
Growth rate: Slow.
Mature Size: 1-3' high and wide.
Flowers: Small, bright orange or yellow, in flat-topped clusters.
Bloom: Spring, summer and fall.
Fruit: Seed pod.
Leaves: Green, pointed, smooth-edged, narrow, 1.5-2" long.
Stems: No thorns. It has a single stem when young. Older plants grow multiple stems from a single tuber. This plant has a watery, translucent sap instead of the milky white sap of other milkweeds, and does not deter all browsing desert mammals.
Roots: A deep, tuberous taproot. This plant does not transplant once established.
Wildlife: This plant attracts butterflies and is a caterpillar food plant for Gray Hairstreak, Monarch, and Queen butterflies. Small mammals, such as the White-throated Woodrat, are known to repeatedly eat the leaves and small stems and eventually kill the plant.
Toxic / Danger: The sap of the entire plant and roots are mildly poisonous to humans.
Origin: North America. Often found on bare, dry, sunny slopes.

Cultivation and Uses
USDA hardiness zones: 4-10.
Heat tolerant: Yes.
Drought tolerant: Yes.
Water once established: Once or twice a month.
Soil: Well drained, dry, sandy to gravelly, low in nutrients, pH 5.6-7.5 (acidic to neutral).
Sun: Full sun to part shade.
Prune: Deadheading spent blooms triggers another bloom cycle about a month later.
Litter: Low.
Pests: Prone to aphids.
Propagation: Easily grown from seed, but may take 2-3 years to flower.
Mulch: After leaf drop, mulch young plants in regions prone to freezes.
Uses: Ornamental. Butterfly attractor.

This plant is a member of the Dogbane family (Apocynaceae). A Queen Butterfly is shown at right. The sap of this plant is not as bad tasting as other milkweeds and its leaves are often browsed by small mammals. It can be difficult to establish this plant without sufficient critter protection.

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Asclepias tuberosa: Butterfly Milkweed - flowers

Asclepias tuberosa: Butterfly Milkweed - with butterfly

Asclepias tuberosa: Butterfly Milkweed

Latest update: August, 2020
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