Butterfly Weed (Aesclepias Tuberosa): Bold, Beautiful and the Life of the Midsummer Garden Party

Bring color and bees to your garden with the Butterfly Weed

Oh to be a butterfly! Just imagine fluttering upon the delightful butterfly weed blossom; saturated in golden-orange color and loaded with sweet nectar. What a feast! Why I’d flit from flower to flower, happily sharing precious pollen with hovering hummingbirds and buzzing bees, from sunrise to sunset. Butterflyweed in the garden? Yes, yes – don’t let the ‘weed’ moniker fool you! North American native Aesclepias tuberosa is a wonderful garden plant, forming neat and tidy, mid-sized mounds in the perennial border, where it blooms its pretty little head off on even the hottest of summer days (and boy are we having those right now – 97 degrees in the shade yesterday).

Afraid of bold hues? Much like an acquaintance with a strong personality, many gardeners have an uneasy relationship with orange. Perhaps due to worries about dis-harmony and possible conflicts within the garden group, some might hesitate –or even flat-out refuse– to invite such a colorful character to the party. This is sad really, because when used creatively, a splash of orange can work wonders in a garden. Having trouble imagining it?  Well, just think about the allure of a bright tangerine on a dark-blue ceramic plate, or the intensity of Vincent Van Gogh’s golden Sunflowers and his swirly gobs of luminous orange in the Starry Night. Hard to argue with the beauty of orange, now isn’t it? Blue-violet hues are never more spectacular than they appear when combined with orangey saffron and brilliant vermillion. Whether in the form of leaf or blossom, I am always looking for ways to play with the hot-cool combination. But orange also looks spectacular in a simple sea of green, her natural, attractive opposite on the color wheel…

Aesclepias tuberosa (Butterflyweed) begins to blossom in July

Butterfly Weed: Drought tolerant and hardy in zones 4-10

Of course, if you love butterflies, this plant really deserves a place in your mid-summer garden. Aesclepias tuberosa (Butterflyweed) provides long, summer sustenance to pollinators of all kinds, including, of course, the butterflies. Hardy in zones 4-10, butterflyweed prefers neutral to slightly acidic soil. This is a very drought tolerant plant; an excellent choice for hot, sunny spaces and naturalized areas, where it may be allowed to self-seed and form colorful drifts. At approximately 24-36″ high and 18″ wide, butterflyweed combines beautifully with other summer-fall blooming plants in rich colors; including speedwell (Veronica spicata), Russian Sage (Perovskia), gayfeather (Liatris), deep violet butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii), monkshood (Aconitum), daylily (Hemerocallis), and many others…

Aesclepias tuberosa Butterfly weed

Aesclepias tuberosa Butterfly weed ⓒ Michaela at TGE

And then, later on in the season –when the sun sinks low and tickles the garden with golden light– pretty dried-pods crack open on butterflyweed, releasing silky, parachute-like seeds into the air. It’s hard not to be charmed by such a sunny plant. She seems continually surrounded by a crowd of graceful movement; hummingbirds, bees, butterflies and drifting white tutus filling the air. Perhaps if you give her a chance, Aesclepias tuberosa will add just the right touch of exuberance to your quiet beds and borders. Who knows, maybe you will even find her to be the life of your garden party…

Butterfly weed seed pods – Aesclepias tuberosa – ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Butterfly weed seed pods – Aesclepias tuberosa – ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Butterfly weed seed pods – Aesclepias tuberosa – ⓒ Michaela at TGE

A single parachutist – Aesclepias tuberosa ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

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Article and photographs © 2010 Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden