Asclepias Tuberosa. Butterfly-Weed.

Botanical name: 

Table 22. Asclepias tuberosa. Pleurisy-root. Flux-root. Wind-root. White-root. In England, Tuberous-rooted Swallow-wort. Orange Apocynum.
Germ. Knollige Schwalbenwurz. (Willd.)

Asclepias tuberosa. L.
Sp. Pl. 316.
Hort. Cliff. 78.
Roy. Lugdb. 411.
Herm. Lugdb. 646. t. 647.
Dill. Elth. 35. t. 30. f. 34.
Houttuyn Lin. Pfl. Syst. 5. p. 791.
Willd. Sp. Pl. tom. 1. part 2. p. 1273.
Pursh. Fl. Am. Sep. vol. 1. p. 183.
Walt. Fl. Car.
Ait. Hort. Kew. ed 2d, vol. 2, p. 80.
Mich. Fl. Boreali-Am. vol. 1. p. 117.
Muhl. Cat. Pl. Am. p. 28.
Big. Florula Bost. p. 63.
Bart. Prod. Fl. Ph. p. 35.
Thatcher's Disp. p. 154.
Coxe's Disp. 3d. ed. p. 214.
Chapman's Elem. Therap. &c. vol. 1. p. 346.

Gen. Plant. 429.

Folliculi 2. Sem. papposa. Cor. rotata, plerumque reflexa. Nectar. 5. ovata, concava, comiculum ex serentia. Anther, corneae, longitudinaliter dehiscentes. Willd.
Nat. Syst. Apocineae. Classis VIII. Ordo XIV.

Asclepias, T. L. * Apocinum, T. * Calix 5-fidus, parvus persistens. Corolla obtuse 5-partita, plana aut reflexa; squamae 5-ejusdem laciniis alternae, staminum tubo extus insertae, genitalibus appressae, in cucullum convolutae, &. e medio cucullo corniculum exserentes. Staminum filamenta coadunata in tubum crassum 5-gonum, germina arete involvens, ex ima corolla enatum, supra clausum stigmate truncato, & ipsi quasi continuum, in angulis 5-sculcatum, in faciebus 5-antheriferum; antherae subsessiles medio tubo extus insertae erectae 2-loculares, polline vacuae, apice membranaceae, corollae laciniis alternae. Stylus 0; stigma peltatum 5-gonum, tubo supradicto impositum, ex foveolis 5-angularibus emittens corpuscula 5 ovata minima, antheris alterna, et ideo corollae laciniis opposita, 2-valvia, valvis latere productis, infra 2-cornia; cornua hxc exilia propendentia basi subulata, medio geniculata, ultra spatulata & granulata (ex concreto polline facta ?); horum singulum in proximo vicinioris antherx loculum immersum, unde 1 corpusculum antheris 2 commune & 1 anthera corpusculorum 2 particeps. Folliculi oblongi acuminati, saepe ventricosi; semina papposa.
Juss. Gen. Pi. p. 147.
Nat. Ord. Linnaei. Contortae.
Class Pentandria. Order Digynia. Lin. Syst.

Gen. Ch. Cal. perianth five-cleft, sharp, very small, permanent. Cor. Monopetalous, flat or reflex, fiveparted; divisions ovate-acuminate, slightly bending with the sun; nectaries five, growing to the tube of the filaments, fleshy or cowled; a sharp horn protruding from the bottom, bending inwards. Stam. filaments five, collected into a tube, swelling at the base; anthers oblong, upright, two-celled, terminated by an inflex membrane lying on the stigma, having a reversed wing on each side; the pollen is collected into ten corpuscules, inversely lanceolate, flat, hanging down into the cells of the anther by short threads, which are annexed by pairs to five cartilaginous twin tubercles, each placed on the tip of the wings of the anthers, adhering to the angles of the stigma, between the anthers. Pist. germs two, oblong, acuminate; styles two, subulate; stigma common to both, large, thick, five-cornered, covered at the top by the apexes of the anthers, umbilicate in the middle. Per. follicles two, large, oblong, acuminate, swelling, one-celled, one-valved. Seeds, numerous, imbricate, crowned with down; receptacle membraneous, free.
Ess. Gen. Char. Contorted; nectaries five, ovate, concave, putting forth a little horn.

Asclepias tuberosa, caule, erectiusculo summitate divaricato-ramoso, hirsutissimo, foliis sparsis oblongo-lanceolatis hirsutis, umbellis subcorymbosa-terminalibus. (Willd. and Pursh.)
β decumbens. A. caule decumbente, foliis sublinearibus hirsutissimis umbellis lateralibus. (Willd.)


A. Caule erecto divaricate villosa, &c. Hort. Cliff.
Apocynum novae Angliae hirsutum, &c. Herm. Lugdb.

Pharm. Asclepiadis tuberosa Radix.
Qual. Leniter adstringens.
Vis: Diaphoretica ʒi.
Usus: Colica, pulv. radic. Hysteria. Hamorrhagiae; decoct, aquos. Dysenteria, decoct. vinosum! Shoepf. Mat. Med.

Descriptio Uberior.

Planta pulchra. Radix perennis quasi tuberosa. Caules varii, plerumque erecti, pilosi, rubri, circiter duobus pedibus alti. Folia numerosa, brevius petiolata, alterna, semper pilosa, lanceolata-ovalia, lanceolata; in varietate $ decumbente, lanceolata-linearia. Flores corymboso-terminales, numerosi, colore Aurantii nitentes. Siliqux longx, seminibus planiusculis refertx. Semina dum maturescerint, cumque siliquae dehiscere csperint, pappo coronato, ventoque afflata, avolant. Habitat in arvis, floret Julio. Bart. Fl. Ph. MS.

The genus to which this superb plant belongs, takes its name from Aesculapius, the god of medicine. It contains an assemblage of some of the most beautiful productions of the vegetable kingdom; and the A. tuberosa, is, perhaps, one of the most elegant plants of our country.

The root is large, and somewhat irregularly tuberous, sending up many erect, and sometimes decumbent hairy stems, branching at the top. The stems are round, very hairy, and of a reddish colour. The leaves are scattered, and supported on petioles little more than the eighth of an inch in length; varying in being lanceolate-oval, long-oval, lanceolate, and in the variety β decumbens, linear-lanceolate, and repand on the margin. They are of a deep rich green above, much paler underneath, and very hairy. The umbels are terminal and somewhat in the form of a corymb; in the variety β they are lateral. The bracteal involucre is composed of numerous narrow-linear, nearly subulate membranaceous leaves, of a salmon colour. The flowers are situated in terminal corymbose umbels, and are of a brilliant reddish-orange colour. The fruit is a long narrow roundish pod, pointed at each end: and the seeds, like the rest of the genus, are furnished with a long silky appendage. The plant continues for a long time in bloom, at which time its rich green leaves contrasted with its gorgeous inflorescence, render it an universal favourite. Its geographical distribution is extensive, being found from the northern states to the southern boundary of the Union; but it is most abundant in the Carolinas and Georgia. In the neighbourhood of Philadelphia it is somewhat rare; but is more frequent in Jersey. It is generally found in fields, sometimes in meadows; and flowers in the months of June and July. The root alone is used for medical purposes.

Medical Properties.

So many estimable qualities are usually attributed to this very favourite plant and popular medicine, that it is not easy to assign it a proper place in the Materia Medica. If the butterfly-weed is deserving of half its reputation, it is richly entitled to a distinguished rank in this work; and so numerous and respectable are the authorities in support of its celebrity, that it is with considerable diffidence I venture to lessen, in the least degree, its elevated character as a medicine, by the intimation of any doubts of its just claim to its present undisputed reputation. My own experience with it is confined to a few trials in cases in which it is reputed to be peculiarly beneficial; and these have resulted in an opinion, that there is some foundation for the encomiastic accounts of this medicine. It may be safely, nay confidently recommended to physicians, as a mild cathartic, particularly suitable to the complaints of children, as it leaves the bowels in a tranquil condition 5 and as a certain diaphoretic, attended with no inconsiderable expectorant effect. But a regard for truth obliges me to state that the virtues of this plant are, as far as my experience extends, considerably exaggerated, there being ascribed to it a multitude of powerful, extraordinary, and almost inestimable properties, to which its virtual character affords no substantial claim. It must be remembered, however, that these remarks are not intended to stigmatise the Pleurisy-root as worthless, for I deem it a valuable article; my only object is to endeavour to present to the public its prominent virtues, divested of what, in my own opinion, is an aggregation of imputed but unreal qualities. A gentleman of Virginia who, judged by his own writing, is evidently not a regular physician, first brought this plant into very general notice, as a cure for the pleurisy. He has been quoted by the late Professor Barton, and subsequently by the compilers of the American dispensatories; and thus have his exaggerated accounts been extensively diffused throughout our country, without any other good effect, perhaps, than that of bringing a plant into general notice, which really possesses medicinal virtues, though not of the nature and number specified in those accounts. To the gentleman alluded to, however, is not to be imputed the discovery of the remediate effects of pleurisy-root. Dr. Shoepf mentions the plant, and specifies the property for which it seems to me most probable, it will become useful: its effect in inducing diaphoresis. He says it is a diaphoretic in the dose of one drachm; that it is slightly astringent; that the powdered root is useful in cholic; an aqueous decoction, in hysteria and menorrhagia; and a vinous decoction in dysentery. This account by Dr. Shoepf, of the "Asclepias tuberosa," as he calls it, inadvertently escaped the attention of the late Professor Barton, else he would, it is presumable, have quoted this author, when speaking of the plant in question. Under the names "Butterfly-root, Pleurisy-root," Shoepf also speaks of the use of some plant, in pleurisy and febrile diseases; and then tells us, on the authority of the late Rev. Dr. Muhlenberg, that the name of Pleurisy-root was applied to the Asclepias tuberosa, and that a decoction of it was esteemed a certain remedy for pleurisy. [Butterfly-root; Pleurisy-root. Hoc nomine in Terra Mariana Radix quaedam insignitur, alba, crassitie digiti auricularis, cujus virtutes incolae in Pleuritide, aliisque morbis febrilibus, magni faciunt. Plantam non vidi; nomen vero, illam ad Diadelphiam pertinere, suadet. — Sapor est mucilagineo-dulcescens, amaricans.
In Pennsylvania nomine Pleurisy-root. Radix Asclepiadis tuberosae venit, cujus particula, dimidium pollicem magnitudine aequans, decocta pro remedio certissimo adversus Pleuritidem habetur, ut nuper e Uteris Ven. Muhlenbergii didici. Mat. Med. p. 160.]
The late Professor Barton informs us [Collections. ] that the root of this plant "is said to possess a remarkable power of affecting the skin, inducing general and plentiful perspiration, without greatly increasing the heat of the body" — that "it is much employed by practitioners of medicine in some parts of the United States, particularly I believe, in Virginia, as a remedy in certain forms of fever, in pleurisy, and other affections. The root is used both in powder and in decoction. Sometimes it is used in combination with antimonials." He further says that the decoction "often induces perspiration when other medicines have failed to produce this effect," and on the authority of a correspondent [Dr. Charles Everett, of Milton.], that in the low states of typhus fever, it induced perspiration when other sudorifics failed. In a letter which I have received from a physician in Wrightstown, [Stephen Burson, M. D.] it appears, that the Asclepias tuberosa is in frequent use by the regular practitioners, as a gentle cathartic in difficult dentition, and as a diaphoretic. To produce the latter effect the writer of the letter gives the following as a proper recipe:
Rad. asclep. ʒii
Lac recens ℥xviii
boiled down to ℥xii. One ounce of the decoction to be given twice or thrice in twenty -four hours, which excites a copious perspiration, and proves at the same time gently cathartic.

It may be said with truth, that the Asclepias tuberosa is a certain, and of course an useful diaphoretic; whether it acts in this way, as it is said to do, without increasing the force of the circulation or augmenting the heat of the body, I am not prepared by any extensive use of the plant, to aver; at the same time it must be confessed, that in the few instances in which my employment of this medicine has presented to me a view of its effects, the plant has supported its reputed character in this respect. And the multitude, respectability, and strength of evidences in favour of this very desirable quality, leave no room to suppose that the plant has received, so far, any undue encomiums. Its expectorant effect in pneumonia and catarrha, is substantiated by a multiplicity of corroborative facts, the relation of which is derived from physicians of undoubted respectability. The late Professor Barton esteemed the Asclepias tuberosa, as one of the most important of our indigenous medicines: and he says the powdered root is escarotic. When taken internally, the dose is from 20 to 30 grains of the powder. This article may be concluded with the following quotation from Thatcher's Dispensatory. The extensive experience of the gentleman there alluded to, with the plant under consideration, is entitled to great attention:

"The powdered root frequently acts as a mild purgative, but it is particularly valuable for its virtues as an expectorant, diaphoretic, and febrifuge, and in this respect its efficacy is amply confirmed by the testimony of Dr. Benjamin Parker, of Bradford, Massachusetts, from his own observation during an extensive practice for many years in Virginia. From the successful employment of the Pleurisy-root for twenty-five years, this respectable physician has imbibed such confidence, that he extols it as possessing the peculiar, and almost specific quality of acting on the organs of respiration, powerfully promoting suppressed expectoration, and thereby relieving the breathing of pleuritic patients in the most advanced stage of the disease; and in pneumonic fevers, recent colds, catarrhs and diseases of the breast in general, this remedy has in his hands proved equally efficacious. He directs it to be given in the form of strong infusion, a tea-cup full every two or three hours. By many families in the country this root has long been esteemed as a domestic medicine, resorted to for the relief of pains of the stomach from flatulence and indigestion; hence the vulgar name of Wind-root, by which it is known in some parts of the country, and from its colour it is by some called White-root. It is said that by a perseverance for several weeks in the use of about one drachm of the powdered root every day, the lost tone of the stomach and digestive powers has been restored."

Table XXII.

Fig. 1. A branch of Asclepias tuberosa, of the natural size.
2. A flower.
3. The Nectary.
4. The calix and germ.

Vegetable Materia Medica of the U.S. or Medical Botany, 1817 (Vol. I), 1818 (Vol. II), was written by William P. C. Barton, M. D.