Since first being introduced in 1990, the Perennial Plant Association has announced 2017’s Perennial Plant of the Year™…and they have selected Butterfly Weed 2017 Perennial of the year!
Insider 411…Butterfly Weed
- Butterfly Weed is a North American native plant.
- Asclepias tuberosa plants are butterfly magnets, as shown in photo below.
- The flowers are a nectar source for many butterflies and leaves are a source for the monarch butterfly caterpillars (very good to know this).
- Additionally, butterfly weed is subject to no serious insect or disease problems (a-ha!).
- Deer usually avoid butterfly weed (deer know this).
Hardiness: USDA Zones 4 to 9
Light: Butterfly weed grows best in full sun
Soil: Grows best in well-drained soils and it is drought tolerant
Uses: Butterfly weed is a perfect selection for full-sun meadow or prairie gardens as well as formal to semi-formal urban gardens. Flower arrangers find the plants make long-lasting cut flowers.
Commonly known as butterfly weed, this long-lived and striking perennial is native to the continental United States (except for the northeast) along with the Canadian provinces Ontario and Quebec.
Medicinal Uses And Other Characteristics
Butterfly weed has a medicinal history as treatment for pleurisy, a common ailment in early colonial times, causing wheezing, cough- ing and great pain due to the inflammation of the pleura round the lungs.
- Asclepias tuberosa reportedly was so effective in treating this ailment it earned another common name, pleurisy root.
Butterfly weed is a member of Apocynaceae, or milkweed family. Its family includes plants with a milky sap poisonous to most insects.
- Unlike other milkweeds, the 2017 winner, Asclepias tuberosa, contains little sap.
- The leaves are 2-5” long, more or less alternate, growing closely together spiraling up the stem, hairy, unserrated, lanceolate, sessile or lacking leaf petiole and appearing attached to the stem.
- Leaves are dark green on top, lighter green beneath. Stems are hairy and branched near the top with at clusters (umbels) of many showy owers in late spring through mid-July.
Get To Know Butterfly Weed Flowers
With vibrant orange/red/yellow flowers that seem to jump out, butterfly weed is a great addition to a sunny garden with average to dry soils. As the common name suggests, these plants are butterfly magnets.
Butterfly weed flowers are easy to recognize because of their “5 up & 5 down” appearance.
- Each flower has 5 colorful petals that hang down, and 5 upright curved petals called hoods, each possessing one horn.
- Horns are more or less orange, erect, sickle shaped, inward curved, forming within the hood. When cross-pollinated a dry fruit forms. This dried fruit, also called a follicle, opens along one side to disperse the seeds.
- The follicle is 4-5” long and only 1/2”-3/4” wide, with a smooth surface. Initially green, they mature brown and split open to release the seeds.
- Deadheading Asclepias tuberosa is recommended to prevent reseeding, keeping the plants more attractive and promoting a second push of color later in the season.
Asclepias tuberosa makes excellent, long-lasting cut flowers. Cut stems when more than half the flowers are open; buds do not open well once the stem is cut.
- Searing the cut end is not necessary to prevent sap from seeping out of the stems.
- Instead, cut flowers have a good vase life if they are immediately placed in warm water after cutting — and either placing stems in a refrigerator for 12 hours — or transferring the stems to cold water. This process eliminates what little sap may be produced.
Mature plants do not transplant well so proper location is important. Young plants develop from a single central stem but with age plants will tiller (develop shoots) at the base, sending up multiple erect stems from a large taproot extending down a foot or more.
- Due to the taproot, division is difficult but can be done in early spring before new growth begins. Butterfly weed is hardy to zones 4-9 and reaches 2-3’ high with about a 2’ spread. Don’t cut back in late fall; rather wait until early spring.
- Mulching young plants prevents frost heaving.
- Be patient since butterfly weed is slow to emerge in the spring.
The Perennial Plant of the Year™
The Perennial Plant of the Year™ program began in 1990 to showcase a perennial that is a standout among its competitors. Perennials chosen are suitable for a wide range of growing climates, require low maintenance, have multiple-season interest, and are relatively pest/disease-free.
The Perennial Plant of the Year™ committee reviews the nominated perennials (more than 400 different perennials are often nominated each year) and selects 3 or 4 perennials to be placed on the ballot. Plants do not see any questions in advance of public debates.
Nominations generally need to satisfy the following criteria:
- Suitability for a wide range of climatic conditions
- Low-maintenance requirements
- Relative pest- and disease-resistance
- Ready availability in the year of promotion
- Multiple seasons of ornamental interest
Serpico’s teams of commercial landscaping experts salute this year’s Butterfly Weed 2017 perennial of the year!