Sep 7, 2010
Butterfly weed is a native of meadows and clearings. It's rich orange color is among the most spectacular on the Southern Appalachian palette. Because it produces several flower clusters per stalk and they bloom progressively, its hue accentuates our meadows for weeks on end. The plant may even flower twice in good years.
Pollinated flowers turn into okra-like seed pods that break open and release round seeds attached to long, feathery filaments that lift them off on wind gusts. All milkweeds do this, as do many of their relatives. There are 14 species of milkweed known from Tennessee, plus five more in sibling genera. Nationwide, we are home to about a hundred species of milkweed.
Dogbane, another meadow plant, is a close relative, as are persimmons and blueberries. Flowers on that segment of the evolutionary tree tend to be tubular, fleshy and clustered. Seeds are more variable.
Many native pollinators visit butterfly weed flowers, including bees, wasps, beetles, flies and their namesake. Orange butterflies such as monarchs and fritillaries love butterfly weed, whereas tiger swallowtails prefer the pale pink common milkweed often growing nearby.