Ask the naturalist: What’s that orange flower blooming on road side?

Asclepias tuberosa is one of Missouri’s native milkweeds. However, despite being in the milkweed genus, this plant does not have milky sap. It does, however, produce large amounts of nectar in its flowers.

Missouri has very few orange wildflowers, so they certainly stand out when you see them, according to Missouri Department of Conservation Naturalist Angela Pierce.

If the flowers are small and clustered together at the end of the stem in the shape of an umbrella, you are probably seeing butterfly weed, Asclepias tuberosa. This is one of Missouri’s native milkweeds. However, despite being in the milkweed genus, this plant does not have milky sap. It does, however, produce large amounts of nectar in its flowers.

Many species of butterflies can be observed flocking to the nectar-rich flowers, hence the name “butterfly weed.” Monarch caterpillars occasionally consume the rough leaves of butterfly weed but they prefer other types of milkweed that have smoother leaves. Butterfly weed does not contain a high amount of cardenolide, the toxin that makes monarch caterpillars taste bad to birds.

This beautiful plant may be considered a “weed” by some standards because of its tolerance for disturbed, dry areas. It is often seen growing along roadsides, old pastures, prairies, and edges of forests.

It can also be easily propagated by its seeds and will self-seed readily. According to Pierce, it is an excellent addition to any native garden. It requires full sun and very little water during the hot summer months; making it a popular plant with native gardeners.

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