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Publication #FPS050

Asclepias tuberosa Butterfly Weed, Indian Paintbrush1

Edward F. Gilman2


Butterfly weed is a member of the milkweed family (Fig. 1). The plants grow to two feet tall and flower from July to September. The flower colors are orange, red, and yellow. The plant will not flower freely until well established. The best sites have exposure to sun or partial shade and almost any soil. The plant tolerates dry soil but not heavy soil. Butterfly weed is slow to start growth in the spring. Mark its location to prevent damage to easily injured dormant crowns. A taproot makes transplanting difficult. Once established do not disturb butterfly weed unnecessarily.

Figure 1. 

Butterfly weed.

[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

General Information

Scientific name: Asclepias tuberosa
Pronunciation: ass-KLEE-pee-us too-bur-O-suh
Common name(s): butterfly weed, Indian paintbrush
Family: Asclepiadaceae
Plant type: herbaceous; annual
USDA hardiness zones: 8 through 10 (Fig. 2)
Planting month for zone 7: Jun; Jul
Planting month for zone 8: May; Jun; Jul; Aug
Planting month for zone 9: Mar; Apr; May; Jun; Jul; Aug; Sep
Planting month for zone 10 and 11: Feb; Mar; Apr; May; Jun; Jul; Aug; Sep; Oct; Nov; Dec
Origin: native to Florida
Uses: naturalizing; cut flowers; attracts butterflies; mass planting; attracts hummingbirds
Availability: somewhat available, may have to go out of the region to find the plant

Figure 2. 

Shaded area represents potential planting range.

[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]


Height: 2 to 3 feet
Spread: 2 to 3 feet
Plant habit: round; upright
Plant density: moderate
Growth rate: fast
Texture: medium


Leaf arrangement: alternate
Leaf type: simple
Leaf margin: entire
Leaf shape: oblong
Leaf venation: parallel
Leaf type and persistence: deciduous
Leaf blade length: 4 to 8 inches
Leaf color: green
Fall color: not applicable
Fall characteristic: not applicable


Flower color: red; yellow
Flower characteristic: summer flowering; spring flowering


Fruit shape: unknown
Fruit length: unknown
Fruit cover: unknown
Fruit color: unknown
Fruit characteristic: inconspicuous and not showy

Trunk and Branches

Trunk/bark/branches: not applicable
Current year stem/twig color: green
Current year stem/twig thickness: thick


Light requirement: plant grows in full sun
Soil tolerances: acidic; sand; loam; clay
Drought tolerance: moderate
Soil salt tolerances: poor
Plant spacing: 18 to 24 inches


Roots: not applicable
Winter interest: no special winter interest
Outstanding plant: plant has outstanding ornamental features and could be planted more
Invasive potential: may self-seed each year
Pest resistance: very sensitive to one or more pests or diseases which can affect plant health or aesthetics

Use and Management

As the name implies, this is one of many small plants that attract butterflies to the landscape. One to several plants is usually all that is needed to draw butterflies to the garden. There are reports that Asclepias has a tendancy to escape cultivation and may seed into the landscape. They grow naturally in dry sandy soil along roadsides from New England to Colorado, Texas and into Florida.

Raw roots have been eaten to treat bronchial ailments. Roots have also been taken internally for gas, hemorraging and other ailments.

Propagation is by seed or division in the spring. The seed germinates in 3 to 4 weeks at 70 to 75-degrees F. Plants maybe planted in a cold frame in spring or fall. Fresh seed may need chilling.

Pest and Diseases

Aphids may infest butterfly weed.

Leaf spot diseases are seen but not serious.

Rusts cause the formation of reddish colored spots.

Cucumber mosaic virus causes leaf mottling but no chemical control is available.



This document is FPS050, one of a series of the Environmental Horticulture, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publication date October 1999. Reviewed February 2014. Visit the EDIS website at


Edward F. Gilman, professor, Environmental Horticulture Department, UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.

The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.