January 2018

Effort under way to make butterfly weed Indiana’s official wildflower


Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa). Photo courtesy

Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa). Photo courtesy

The Indiana Native Plant and Wildflower Society has launched an initiative to declare butterfly weed as the state’s official wildflower.

Society members plan to spend the 2017 session walking statehouse halls to promote a bill that elevates the status of the native perennial, a critical plant in the lifecycle of monarch butterflies.

The peony, an import from Asia, is the official state flower, and there are no plans to change that, said Davie Sue Wallace, vice president of INPAWS. Several states have state flowers and state wildflowers, including Michigan, Ohio, Oklahoma and Florida.

INPAWS criteria for this selection: It needed to be garden worthy in performance and size; it needed to be found in the wild throughout Indiana; it needed to be a plant that retailers and wholesalers would be interested in; and it needed to be a plant of interest to children for educational purposes. Butterfly weed won by a long shot, said Wallace of Evansville, 10-year member of INPAWS.

She met with Republican Sens. Vaneta Becker and David Long the day before Thanksgiving to begin the process. Becker will likely craft the bill, Wallace said.

“It has been very challenging to do this during the holidays. But this just seems like the right year,” Wallace said.

To support Senate Bill 470, email or write Becker and Long and the representatives and senators from your area, Wallace said.

Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) has become a very popular perennial the last several years, primarily because of its value as a food plant in the monarch butterfly’s lifecycle. A member of the milkweed family, butterflies slurp nectar from the bright orange flowers. Monarchs lay her eggs on milkweeds, which hatch and the larva eat the leaves before pupating and turning into butterflies. The Asclepias family is the only food plant for the caterpillars.

The loss of natural habitats of butterfly weed has prompted gardeners, municipalities, highway departments, parks and others to plant the perennial as a way to support monarchs, whose numbers have seen sharp decline over the last decade.

Coincidentally, butterfly weed is the 2017 Perennial Plant of the Year, so named by the Perennial Plant Association, a trade association of breeders, growers, horticulturists and educators.

Grow butterfly weed in full sun and well-drained soil. Once established, the plant, which gets about 2 feet tall and wide, is drought tolerant. The flowers and seed heads are great for bouquets. Deadhead the plant to reduce self-sowing.

2 comments to Effort under way to make butterfly weed Indiana’s official wildflower

  • Beth Henkel

    I wrote my legislator, Carey Hamilton, and Senator, Bill Ruckelshaus, about this effort this morning. Thanks so much, Jo Ellen, for letting us know about this effort.

    I would appreciate knowing where we can purchase butterfly weed starts/plants. Spring will soon be here!

  • You are welcome! Spread the word. I think the fact that butterfly weed is the Perennial Plant of the Year will aid in getting it in garden centers. Seeds can be frequently be found in seed racks, nursery catalogs and online retailers.