Vascular Plants of North Carolina
Account for Butterfly Milkweed - Asclepias tuberosa   L.
Members of Asclepias with account distribution info or public map:
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Section 6 » Order Gentianales » Family Apocynaceae
DistributionOccurs statewide, though scarce in the far eastern counties, where there is a lack of records for six of them, including well-worked Carteret County.

This species occurs over most of the continent, form eastern Canada south to the Gulf Coast, and to AZ.
AbundanceCommon and quite widespread, if not even very common in much of the state, except rare in the eastern Coastal Plain. This is certainly the most numerous milkweed species in the state.
HabitatThis well-known species favors fairly dry habitats, typically in partial shade. It favors woodland borders, roadbanks, powerline clearings, pine/oak sandhills, and other dry to somewhat mesic, reasonably sunny places.
See also Habitat Account for General Apocynaceous Forblands
PhenologyBlooms from May to August, and fruits from August to October.
IdentificationThis is a medium-sized milkweed, often with multiple stems, and also with some small branching from upper nodes. It typically ranges to about 1.5-2' tall. It has several unusual features for a milkweed -- 1) it does not have milky sap, and 2) it has alternate leaves instead of paired, opposite leaves. It has numerous alternate leaves, quite variable in shape from plant to plant, though averaging somewhat elliptical to narrowly elliptical, and about 3" long and about 2/3" wide. In reality, the number and shape of the leaves are immaterial, as the plant is identified by its numerous alternate leaves and the unmistakable bright orange (to sometimes yellow in one variety) flowers. The clusters (umbels) are terminal on branches, and each is about 1.5" across. However, the several umbels collectively look quite flat-topped, like a plant with a horizontal band of orange color on top. The variety in the Sandhills -- var. rolfsii -- generally has orange yellow to golden-yellow flowers, instead of bright orange (ranging from yellow-orange to deep orange) in the nominate variety. Everyone should be familiar with this showy species when in bloom, especially as so few other plants (other than various Lilium species) have bright orange flowers. As the common name indicates, a patch of blooming Butterfly Milkweeds is a great attractant for many insects for nectar, especially bees and butterflies.
Taxonomic CommentsThere are two varieties of the species in the state; var. tuberosa occurs essentially statewide, whereas var. rolfsii is essentially limited to the Sandhills region.

Other Common Name(s)Butterflyweed is often used, more so than Butterfly Milkweed. However, NatureServe uses Butterfly Milkweed, and it seems better to use a group common name included in the names of all of the others in the genus, rather than using an idiosyncratic name, if an alternative one is available (and it is). Pleurisy-root and Orange Milkweed are occasionally used.
State RankS5
Global RankG5
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