Native Plant Focus: Butterfly Weed

I’ve never been one to love orange. As a University of Georgia graduate and diehard Bulldog fan, I learned to despise orange early in life. And the good state of Georgia is surrounded by collegiate orange: Tennessee, Clemson, Auburn, and Florida. More’s the pity.  Despite this fact, I’ve recently found myself nearly taking out mailboxes and street signs while trying to catch a better glimpse of orange alongside the road. I’m talking about butterfly weed. A wonderful Alabama native perennial, butterfly weed (Asclepis tuberosa) is one of the relatively few plants in the Southeast that boasts an orange bloom. Even for someone that bleeds red and black, this color is worth noticing.

 Butterfly weed growing alongside a road in Birmingham.

Butterfly weed growing alongside a road in Birmingham.

Butterfly weed is a clump forming perennial that grows between 12 to 24 inches in height and has alternate, green leaves between 2 to 3 inches. The blooms, which range between yellow to reddish orange, occur in mid spring and last throughout the summer. The flowers give way to seed pods that eventually release parachute-like seeds that are scattered by the wind. The species prefers well-drained, moist sites but it will tolerate a wide range of soils. It needs full or partial sun to thrive.

With the plant’s name comes some unfortunate misconceptions. This plant is only a weed if you don’t want it on your property or garden---but I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t! It’s relatively easy to maintain, and like many natives, it’s well-suited to our Alabama soils and climate. It occurs naturally on the edges of fields and roads but it can easily be grown in gardens and residential areas.

 Clump forming habits of butterfly weed

Clump forming habits of butterfly weed

As with all natives, butterfly weed has an important place in our local ecosystems. True to its name, this plant is a major hit with insects and butterflies, including the monarch and queen species. Monarch butterflies even use the plant as a host for laying eggs and rearing caterpillars. Expect to see more life and activity in your garden if you use butterfly weed. And expect to see more orange…


Cahaba Design Studio is a landscape architecture studio located in Birmingham, Alabama that provides landscape design, land planning, and ecological design. As a division of Richter Landscape Company, the design studio is experienced in native plants, gardens, arboriculture, land preservation, and wildlife habitat design.