Plant of the sand country, blossom of the sunny prairie, denizen of broad sunshine and dry soil. the orange butterfly weed sets a spot of brilliant pigment on the prairie. The plant makes a broad, spreading bush of many stems which spring from a very deep, stout taproot, or stands, a single stalk, with that unmistakable mass of bright orange blossoms at the top. The small flowers grow in a spreading head to which butterflies and other insects come to sip the nectar.
Asclepias tuberosa L.
July. Sands, prairie roads.
As in the case of other milkweeds, the butterfly weed has complicated flowers which are designed to prevent the entry of ants and other crawling insects. The hairy stems, besides, further prevent insects from climbing up to the flowers which must be pollinated by flying insects alone. But although the flower is typically that of a milkweed and so are the leaves, the butterfly weed has no milky juice.
Butterfly weed, like many milkweeds, has toxic qualities in its acrid juice, but because of the distasteful flavor and the hairy stems, few if any animals will eat them and thus do not suffer from poisoning. An old remedy for pleurisy once was obtained from the stout, deep root, hence the name of pleurisy root which is often given to the butterfly weed.
But the latter name is much more appropriate today on the hot and sunny prairie or across the wind-swept sand fields of the river country. For the butterflies know the brilliant orange flowers of butterfly weed and gather around to sip nectar, so that almost always one may see at least a butterfly or two in the vicinity of any clump of butterfly weed.