Butterfly weed grows throughout most of the United States and parts of Canada. Like its name suggests, it attracts butterflies and it especially beneficial for monarchs whose larvae feed on the leaves of the plant. It also provides a nice splash of bright orange color for your garden.
Butterfly weed is drought tolerant and deer resistant. It can grow in dry soils with little trouble and prefers full sun. Although most native butterfly weed is bright orange, there are some yellow varieties. It grows about 1.5 to 2 feet tall and when blooming, is covered in small orange flowers. It blooms in June through late August or early September.
Like its relative, swamp milkweed, butterfly weed produces a white, milky substance when cut. In the past, butterfly weed was harvested for its medicinal qualities (be warned it is toxic though!) and for fibers that could be used for making rope, rough cloth, and cords.
This plant can be propagated by seed or by root cuttings. If planting seeds, harvest the seeds from the pods just as they are ripe, but right before the pods split open. Seeds should be exposed to cold temperatures for a few months (in your fridge should work) before planting in Spring. Then plant them directly in the soil in Spring and water well. The seedlings may not bloom until the second year.
You can divide the roots after the plant has gone dormant in late fall. Transplant each section (about 2-inch sections is good) and then water. Mark the locations so you recognize them when the plants come up in Spring. Butterfly weed comes up a bit later than most of your plants and might be mistakenly pulled if you don’t mark them. I have done this 🙁
Bees, butterflies, and some beetles use the flowers for nectar. Monarch butterflies lay eggs on butterfly weed and the larvae feed on the leaves of the plant.