butterfly weed plant seed pods

[5] – Fishbein, M. and Venable, D.L. (1996), Diversity and Temporal Change in the Effective Pollinators of Asclepias Tuberosa. Ecology, 77: 1061-1073. https://doi.org/10.2307/2265576. Retrieved January 2021.

Butterfly Weed emerges very late in Spring. Of all the different native plants I grow, Butterfly Weed is one of the last to emerge in Spring.

[2] – Rutgers University. Decline of bees, other pollinators threatens US crop yields. Phys.org – published 28JUL2020. https://phys.org/news/2020-07-decline-bees-pollinators-threatens-crop.html Retrieved 15JAN2021.

So be patient! Your Butterfly Weed plants just like to take a slightly longer winters nap than other plants!

[8] – Paola A. Barriga, Eleanore D. Sternberg, Thierry Lefèvre, Jacobus C. de Roode, Sonia Altizer, Occurrence and host specificity of a neogregarine protozoan in four milkweed butterfly hosts (Danaus spp.),Journal of Invertebrate Pathology, Volume 140, 2016,Pages 75-82, ISSN 0022-2011, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jip.2016.09.003.

Native American Uses.

To deadhead Butterfly Weed, wait until the flower petals begin falling off a bloom. Then, remove the stalk at the first junction of leaves below the bloom.

Uses by the Cherokee, Delaware, Menominee, Mohegan, and Navajo include.

While the leaves are normally dark green on top, and light green underneath. Often the margins will have a yellow hue to them. I’ve found this to be completely normal. As the season goes on, Butterfly Weed leaves (especially lower leaves) tend to turn yellow.

If you notice the entire leaf turning yellow before Autumn, it could mean several things. A nutrient deficiency, or too much water. Or, many native plants have lower leaves turn yellow and fall off as they no longer receive sunlight.

Tussock Moths can completely defoliate any Milkweed plant. It has happened to me on my Swamp Milkweeds. However, the plants will generally recover.

Butterfly Weed has a thick, woody taproot. Taproots of mature plants can be several feet (1 m) deep.

The long taproot of Butterfly Weed means that it will rarely need watering. You can plant this in the sunniest, driest spot in your yard and it will thrive!

This disease will effect Butterfly Weed when the roots are too wet. This is most often caused by poor draining soil.

The gorgeous orange flowers make it beautiful for up to two months in the Summer.

If you are concerned, the safest solution is to top-dress the plant with compost. Applying a 1-2″ thick ring of compost around the plant will take care of any nutrient deficiencies the plant may be experiencing. If that fails to address the yellow leaves, consider.

When does Butterfly Weed emerge.

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Seeds are readily available though, and by far the most economical way to obtain plants. We’ve had great luck with certain companies that we link to on our recommended products page.

You can expect Butterfly Weed to bloom it’s second year after growing from seed. And by the 3rd or 4th year, Butterfly Weed should grow to it’s full size.

These small orange aphids (also known as Milkweed aphids) will suck sap and nutrients from the stalks. These orange or yellow bugs on your Butterfly Weed will not harm the plant. They are just very ugly.

The primary disease that can kill Butterfly Weed is Chlorosis, or Root Rot [10].

Butterfly Weed is a showy perennial flower native to Eastern North America. Scientifically known as Asclepias Tuberosa , it will grow to about 2′ tall by 1-1/2′ wide, and bloom bright orange flowers for up to two months. As a milkweed, it serves as a host for Monarch Butterflies, & attracts numerous other pollinators.

Butterfly Weed likes dry to medium moisture. It is very drought tolerant and can thrive in the hottest, driest area of your garden.

Butterfly Weed Toxicity.

3 – Squish them.

Even though Native Plants are tough and disease/pest resistant, they are part of the ecosystem. Certain insects that will feed on Butterfly Weed are not attractive, and although native are not desirable. These include the Tussock Moth and Milkweed Beetle.

After the flowers have faded seed pods will begin to develop in late Summer and into Autumn. Eventually the pods will turn brown and open up, releasing Butterfly Weed seeds into the wind.

Bumble bee feeding on Butterfly Milkweed, Asclepias tuberosa.

4 – Place pots in a location that receives morning sun and afternoon shade .

Monarch Butterflies will lay their eggs on Butterfly Weed [6]. But additional species such as the Gray Hairstreak and Queen Butterfly [7], [8].

When mature, these pods will open up and distribute seeds carried by a feather with the wind. Seeds can travel fare and wide and colonize disturbed, bare ground.

And finally the erect seed pods make for a unique display until Autumn!

Snip off the pod using pruning shears. Slice lengthwise along the edge using a utility knife. Pry open the seed pods. Scoop out the seeds and fluffy matter inside and place it in a bucket.

Before you begin to harvest the butterfly weed pods, sterilize your cutting tools. Dip the blades into a full-strength household cleanser, such as Lysol or Pine-Sol. Repeat between cuts to prevent the spread of diseases.

Butterfly weed and milkweed seed pods may be harvested and planted to support Monarch butterfly caterpillars. Butterfly weed grows well from seeds, which must be harvested in late summer and either sown immediately in the garden, or started in spring after a lengthy chilling process. The seeds are viable and will germinate with little care, although they must be planted at the appropriate depth to ensure successful sprouting.

Sometimes called pleurisy root, butterfly weed ( Asclepias tuberosa ) is a perennial wildflower grown for its showy, reddish-orange flower clusters and textured, lanceolate leaves. A member of the milkweed family, it thrives throughout U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 3 to 9, where it is frequently added to butterfly gardens and native plant landscaping.

Leave the bucket outdoors for two or three days to let the fluff blow away. Stir the seeds occasionally to loosen more fluff. Do not worry if some of the fluff remains, since it won’t inhibit the germination process.

Water the butterfly weed seeds whenever the compost feels barely damp when pressed. Apply the water by the spoonful or use a spray bottle to keep from dislodging the seeds.

Gather the butterfly weed seeds in late summer or autumn, once the pods dry to a light, rosy-beige color, but before they split open. Put on rubber gloves before handling the pods to protect your hands from the mildly toxic sap.

Place the butterfly weed seeds in a plastic bag filled with 1 cup of moistened perlite. Store the bag inside the refrigerator for three months. Mist the perlite with water every few days to keep it from drying out completely.

Prepare peat or other biodegradable pots before removing the butterfly weed seeds from the refrigerator. Fill 3-inch starter pots with a mixture of half seed-starting compost and half coarse sand. Moisten the mix and press it firm.

Watch for germination in two to three weeks. Turn off the propagation mat one week after the seeds sprout. Move the pots into a cold frame outdoors or against a south-facing wall with noonday shade.

Transplant the butterfly weed into a permanent bed in spring just after the last frost. If planting butterfly weed in clay soil, dig in 2 to 4 inches of compost to lighten the soil, or consider building raised beds to increase drainage.

Arrange the starter pots on a propagation mat near a source of bright, indirect light such as near a partly shaded south-facing window. Set the temperature on the propagation mat to 86 F during the day. Turn it off at night.

Make a 1/4-inch-deep planting hole in the center of compost mixture. Drop one butterfly weed seed in the planting hole. Cover it with a loose layer of compost. Mist the compost to settle it.

Spread a 1-inch-thick layer of mulch around each plant. Water weekly to a 2-inch depth during their first summer, then cease supplemental irrigation.

Butterfly weed is very easy to propagate from seed, but because seeds can take two to three years to mature into flowering plants, many gardeners choose to propagate from root cuttings. Here's how to do it:

Butterfly weed thrives in a variety of different temperature and humidity settings, growing well in zones 3 to 9. Generally, the plant emerges in late spring, hitting its peak bloom during the warmer summer months and drying on the stem throughout the autumn and winter. It handles high-humidity and arid climates equally well, provided it gets adequate soil moisture.

Other than the root rot that can appear in dense, wet soils, there are only a couple of common problems with butterfly weed.

Overwintering butterfly weed is a simple matter of cutting off the plant stem near ground level as soon as the plant succumbs to cold temperatures in the fall or early winter. There is no harm to leaving the plant stalks in place, though this encourages rampant self-seeding, which is usually not desired. Don't mulch over the root crowns, as this can encourage rot.

Like other types of milkweed, butterfly weed produces large seed pods that disperse small seeds with hairs that disperse on the wind. Thus, it can be an invasive plant that spreads every which way unless you break off the seed pods before they mature and split. Be careful when using this plant in gardens near wild prairie or meadow areas, as spreading is likely.

Pruning Butterfly Weed.

In general, butterfly weed is not a difficult plant to cultivate and should bloom freely on its own once it has reached maturity (which can take up to three years). That being said, if you're struggling to get your butterfly weed to bloom, there could be a few factors at play.

Butterfly weed is a must-have plant for gardeners looking to coax the namesake winged insects into the garden. This clump-forming perennial grows from tuberous roots to a height of 1 to 2 feet and is characterized by glossy-green, lance-shaped leaves and clusters of bright orange-to-yellow blooms that are rich with nectar and pollen. A type of milkweed, butterfly weed is generally planted in late spring after the soil is workable. It is fairly slow to become established and may take as much as three years before it flowers. When it finally does flower, its clusters of bright orange-yellow flowers will display from late spring until late summer. Unlike other milkweeds, butterfly weed does not have caustic milky sap, but it does produce the characteristic seed pods that release silky-tailed seeds to disperse on the wind.

The plant can be susceptible to aphid damage, which usually is controlled by lady beetles and other predator insects unless the infestation is severe, at which point you can spray with an insecticidal soap or pesticide.

Butterfly weed is, of course, a mainstay of butterfly gardens, though it is not quite as attractive to monarch butterflies as is the common milkweed. It is also commonly used in meadow gardens or any landscape design devoted to natural wildflowers. In the mixed border, landscapers find that the bright orange color blends well with blues and purples, such as purple coneflower, Liatris, or globe thistle. It also works well when blended with other yellow and orange flowers, such as coreopsis or black-eyed Susan.

Butterfly weed is considered mildly toxic to humans and to animals. But because it has much lower levels of the toxic sap found in standard milkweed, butterfly weed is regarded as a safer plant in homes with children or pets.

The most common issue with butterfly weed is the rampant self-seeding that happens if the seed pods aren't removed before they burst and scatter their seeds. This can be prevented by removing the seed pods before they dry and burst open. The volunteer plants that appear due to self-seeding should be removed before they establish long tap roots.

Beloved for its ability to attract a variety of helpful (and beautiful) insects to the garden, butterfly weed is an easy-to-nurture herbaceous perennial that can also be found growing as a native wildflower in a slew of untamed environments, such as meadows, prairies, and forest clearings. Typically grown from seeds you sow directly in the garden, butterfly weed does not require much tending to in order to thrive, prospering well in everything from clay soil to dry, rocky soil, and even in drought-like conditions.

Butterfly weed can prosper in a variety of soil conditions and compositions, from clay to gravel, and it generally prefers a neutral to slightly acidic pH.

In most circumstances, butterfly weed is largely trouble-free, but it can be susceptible to root rot if it is planted in dense soil that gets too much moisture. It can also be susceptible to fungal diseases such as rust and other leaf spots, though these are usually merely cosmetic and not fatal.


Its seed pods will turn brown towards the end of the growing season (early autumn) and if left on the plant, they will burst and spread seeds throughout your garden to emerge as new volunteer plants the following spring. While the plant can take up to three years to fully mature and produce flowers, its blooms will gradually grow denser with each season that passes.

Butterfly weed is very attractive to feeding rabbits. Rodent repellant granules or sprays can provide some prevention, but metal fencing around the plants is the best solution.

Typically, the easiest and most successful way to add butterfly weed to your garden is to grow it from seed. Plant fresh seeds in fall for growth the following spring, or allow any established butterfly weeds already in your garden to do the work for you.

During its first year of life (or until new plants start showing mature growth), you should maintain a moist soil environment for butterfly weed, giving it about 1 inch of water per week through combined rainfall and irrigation. Once the plant appears to be well-established, you can cut back to watering it only occasionally, as it now prefers dry soil. Mature plants can do well with just monthly watering in all but the driest climates.

If possible, choose a spot in your garden that boasts lots of bright sunlight daily, as this plant loves to soak up the rays. Full sun is definitely your best bet, but his hardy plant can tolerate a few hours of shade, too.

Butterfly weed is a low-maintenance plant that does not require any additional fertilization—in fact, doing so can harm the plant, making it excessively leggy and reducing blooms.

How to Get Butterfly Weed to Bloom.

Though butterfly weed does not need much pruning throughout the year, it can be cut back to the ground ahead of the winter season. In late autumn, you’ll notice the leaves on the butterfly weed are beginning to yellow and the stems are drying out and turning brown. This is a sign that the plant is entering dormancy for the season—at this point, you can take a clean set of pruning shears and cut the plant to the ground, where it will stay until it reemerges in spring.

There are a number of named cultivars of this plant. Most varieties, as well as the native species, are orange. But some popular varieties offer color variations:

These are very similar plants and members of the same plant genus. Both are of great value to butterflies and other pollinators. But butterfly weed has notable orange flowers, while milkweed has white or pink/mauve flowers. Further, milkweed is notably toxic, with the potential for fatality if large quantities are consumed by humans or animals. Butterfly weed, on the other hand, has rather mild toxicity, and fatalities are very rare.

Beginning in late summer or early fall, the plants should start to develop seed pods at the base of the pollinated blooms. If left on the stem, the pods will eventually burst and the seeds inside will be blown throughout your garden, allowing them to establish themselves in the soil in time for the following year. If you'd rather have more control over the eventual location of any new butterfly weed plants, you can remove the seed pods from the plant before they burst open and simply plant new seeds by hand instead.

It's important to get your watering cadence right for the plant. It should be watered regularly until new growth starts to appear (this includes leaves and stems, not just blooms), at which point you can decrease the frequency with which you water. Additionally, butterfly weed plants should not be fertilized. While fertilizer may work to make other plants bloom, it can actually harm butterfly weed and discourage blooming.

First grown in the prairies of the Midwestern United States, butterfly weed boasts a long medicinal history. Native Americans used to chew the roots as a remedy for pleurisy and other pulmonary issues, and it can also be brewed into tea for treating diarrhea and other stomach ailments. But due to its mild toxicity, butterfly weed should never be eaten uncooked.