Creature Feature: Butterfly Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa)
By Emma Dean, CG Science Editor
Unlike many of the creatures, particularly plants, spotlighted in weekly Creature Features, butterfly milkweed is native to North America and is located all over the eastern United States, Great Lakes regions and along the Mississippi River. Butterfly milkweed is found in all states except for Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota and Colorado.
This plant is especially plentiful in the central eastern and southern areas of Ohio, but in states including Maine, New Hampshire, New York and Vermont, butterfly milkweed is either endangered or threatened. Butterfly milkweed grows up to about three feet tall and prefer open habitats such as pastures, fields or roadsides that experience a range of full sun to light shade. Due to a long taproot, the plant is able to survive in dry conditions if necessary.
While butterfly milkweed is indigenous, it is also used in landscaping. Due to an unfavorable taste, most animals avoid butterfly milkweed so the plant does not entice garden pests like deer. It does, however, attract all sorts of butterflies and hummingbirds. Adult female monarch butterflies lay their eggs beneath the leaves of the plant. Both the caterpillars and grown butterflies feed off the leaves and due to ingesting the plant’s toxins, become poisonous themselves.
- Other aliases for butterfly milkweed are archangel, butterfly weed, Canada root, chigger flower, fluxroot, fly catcher, Indian paint, Indian plume, Indian posy, orange milkweed, orange root, pleurisy root, silkweed, swallowwort, white root, wind root and yellow milkweed.
- Butterfly milkweed blooms sometime between the middle of June to early September.
- Most parts of the plant are poisonous to animals and humans, but only if consumed in large amounts.
- The sap can create dermatitis in humans.
- Despite the plant’s toxicity, its root had medicinal properties and has been used to treat pleurisy.
- Native Americans utilized the medicinal uses of the root as well as extracted a red dye for decoration and also used the plant fibers for textiles and bowstrings.