Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) is also called butterfly milkweed, orange milkweed and pleurisy root. The stems don’t leak sticky, white fluid when broken as milkweeds do. Butterfly weed’s roots were chewed by American Indians as a cure for pulmonary problems. Butterfly weed grows wild along roadsides and in fields but it can also be introduced to home gardens. The plant produces a large amount of nectar which attracts butterflies and hummingbirds.
Butterfly weed may be purchased at garden centers already started in pots. The plant prefers well drained, sandy soil. It is highly resistant to drought conditions as it stores water and nutrients in its long tap root. Over-watering may harm the plant more than under-watering.
The plant does best in full sun to partial shade. It is considered ideal for meadows and large, open areas and can be mixed in with other perennials in smaller areas. The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center says that because of butterfly weed’s "interesting and unusual flower structure," it should be planted "among other mid-sized perennials."
Leave enough room in the garden for the plant to grow. Although it may take up to four years for butterfly weed to reach its full height of 1 1/2 to 2 feet, the plant gets bushier each year and produces flower clusters that can reach 2 to 5 inches across. Blooms are achieved from April through September.
Butterfly weed may be propagated by seed or by sectioning the tap root of an existing plant. Seeds and roots may be planted in the same soil and sun conditions as potted plants. Propagated butterfly weed should be kept moist after planting. Seed pods mature in late summer and early fall. Seeds can be collected after the pods fully mature. Two-inch sections of tap root can be cut in fall and planted vertically in garden soil. Plants that grow from seed may take two to three years to flower.
Butterfly weed will undoubtedly come under attack by aphids at some point in time, a problem that could spread to other nearby plants. Aphids can be controlled by spraying blooms, stems and leaves with soapy water or with a forceful jet of water from a garden hose. Ladybugs eat scores of aphids, so letting them control aphids on butterfly weed is another viable option.