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BUTTERFLY WEED Asclepias tuberosa

Psalm 24 begins, “The earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein” (KJV). This phrase “the fulness thereof” is evident about us each summer.

One day in early summer when I was walking to the mailbox, I counted about 20 different wildflowers in bloom. Some were very tiny and some were large, some were rather rare while others were in such abundance that it would be easy to pass them off as boringly common.

The wildflower for today generally blooms from July through September.


Asclepias tuberosa

The butterfly weed is spectacularly beautiful because of its color and the way it displays itself. It is also a testimony to the Bible verse, in that its nectar and sap have served inhabitants of the animal kingdom and mankind as well.

Butterfly weed is so named because its color and nectar attracts butterflies. Of course it attracts many other insects, and thus the secondary name for this bright orange composite of blooms is chigger-weed. The most noticeable of visitors are the butterflies, especially the magnificent Monarch.

The butterfly weed is a drought tolerant perennial. It prefers medium to coarse soils, so it is less likely to grow in areas of Georgia red clay. When full grown, it stands 2 to 3 feet high with many leaves along the stem. The individual flower is only 3/8 of an inch in diameter; however, the clusters of blooms may include 20 to 80 red-orange or yellow-orange flowers.

The sap of the plant is not milky though it is a member of the milkweed family.

Other names given to this plant relate to its medicinal uses. Indians chewed the root to treat pleurisy and thus it was called pleurisy root by colonialists. Several Indian tribes used it to treat skin injuries and others for treating arthritis.

American physicians, as late as the 19th century, used it as a expectorant and a treatment for smallpox. The encyclopedia of pharmacology in 1892 listed at least 14 uses, including treatment of dyspepsia, indigestion, dysentery, and eczema. Modern experts of natural medicine champion the use of the root for colds, flu, and bronchial and pulmonary problems. (Sanders)

Wow! What a wonderful drug store in my front yard! But my sources warn that most parts of the butterfly weed are poisonous to some degree and its dosages must be carefully monitored. It is my belief that drugs and medications should only be taken with the careful monitoring of your physician.

Rather than visiting this plant to experiment with its pharmaceutical benefits, I’ll just enjoy it as a marvelous adornment that attracts a delightful assortment of colorful butterflies to fulfill the words of Psalm 24.

Orrin Morris is a retired Baptist minister, local artist and art teacher. To purchase a two-volume set of books featuring his wildflower columns, visit The Sketching Pad in Olde Town Conyers, or call 770-929-3697 or text 404-824-3697. Email him at


I have been editor of the Rockdale Citizen since 1996 and editor of the Newton Citizen since it began publication in 2004. I am also currently executive editor of the Clayton News Daily, Henry Daily Herald and Jackson Progress-Argus.