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Native Americans harvested fibers from the dried stems that were made into ropes and used in weaving cloth. Many tribes used various parts of the butterfly weed as food. In colonial America, dried leaves of butterfly weed and skunk cabbage were made into a tea to treat chest inflammations thus giving butterfly weed an alternative name: pleurisy root. Pleurisy root was listed in the American Pharmacopoeia and the National Formulary until 1936.
Butterfly weed is commonly planted in formal garden borders and in meadow and prairie gardens. This wildflower does not transplant well as it has a deep woody taproot. It is easily propagated from seed. Collect the seed from the pods has they just begin to open. Butterfly weed seed need a three-month cold stratification. Therefore, it is best to plant the seed in autumn and they will easily germinate the following spring. “If the butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) were a rare exotic perhaps we would build greenhouses in which to grow it, but because it is commonly found along the parched roadsides, we pass it quite unnoticed.” So said Alfred Hottes in 1937 when he described this – in his opinion – overlooked native wildflower in his book on garden perennials. But times have changed. Since gardeners embraced butterflies, the butterfly milkweed has become a hot item.
The dense, flattened crown of orange (sometimes almost red) to yellow flowers are produced from late spring through much of the summer at the ends of the shoots. Individual flowers are five petaled which all point backwards and surround a whorl of five erect hooded extensions of the stamens that form a crown. The flowers are attractive to a host of butterfly species but also provide nectar for hummingbirds, bees and other summertime insects.Butterfly milkweed has gained in popularity amongst gardeners interested in attracting monarch butterflies to their flower beds. Milkweeds produce a toxic cardenolide steroidal in their leaves which monarch caterpillars have evolved to tolerate, but birds that feed on them have not. Monarch butterflies only lay eggs on milkweeds, thus assuring their caterpillars will have defense against hungry birds. Unfortunately, butterfly milkweed has a very low cardenolide content and it is not the preferred species for egg laying. (Source: www.uaex.uada.edu)