Butterfly weed in early spring is….nowhere to be found. Asclepias tuberosa, also known as milkweed, comes up very late in spring. It emerges so late that virtually every conversation I have with gardeners regarding butterfly weed, and I do not exaggerate, touches upon how late butterfly weed is to the party. There is almost always an “I thought it died during the winter” or “I couldn’t believe it when it finally arrived”.
Related: An introduction to milkweed.
Identifying butterfly weed seedlings and new spring growth
Below is an image (click the image to view full-size) that may assist you in identifying seedlings.
Confounding things further is that it is almost impossible to transplant Asclepias tuberosa because of a deep-rooted tuber (thus the species name) that easily breaks when attempting to move the plant. Thus, the best way to grow Asclepias is often from seed, which leads to days upon days spent gazing at garden soil wondering where is the butterfly weed?
If you have established plants, try not to worry. You do need to keep track of where the plants are growing as I’d wager many a butterfly weed has been lost to impatient gardeners in spring. Many gardeners will place a small stick in the soil where treasured plants go. This helps ensure the area remains undisturbed while plants are dormant.
One final thought: whether you plant seeds or established plants, pick the spot carefully, as generally speaking, there’s no moving butterfly weed later.