Sunday, 10 April 2011

Buddleia - The Butterfly Bush

This plant came seeming out of nowhere in the middle of my rosebush patch this summer. I couldn't quite figure out what it was so was hesitant to rip it out. It was like something out of Jack and the Beanstalk! It just kept growing and growing. It finally flowered so I went and googled pictures of the flowers to try and put a name to it. I found this poem which completely sums up my experience with this plant


The Butterfly Bush

"I used to love the Buddleia,

Its long purple trumpets in summer

Buzzing with Bees and Butterflies,

Until someone told me it was common,

Invasive, a weed!

Its withered flower cones

Spilling armies of seedlings to colonize the neighborhood.

Then, I was embarrassed to have loved it.

I began to see its offspring sprouting everywhere;

Hated how they rooted between loose bricks,

Flourished from cracks in the pavement.

So I cut mine back to nothing,

Buried the broken stump, only to find it returned

The next Spring, abundant & more beautiful!"

Here is the technical info on this plant should you decide to have a love/hate relationship with it.

Buddleia: Butterfly Bush Extraordinaire

by Claire Hagen Dole

From Number 12, Spring 1997

Butterfly Magnet

With a name like butterfly bush, you might expect a plant to be attractive to butterflies. In fact, it's more than attractive; it's a magnet for all the butterflies who pass through your garden seeking nectar. Many butterfly gardeners plan their garden around Buddleia (pronounced BUD-lee-ah), a genus that includes over 100 species and cultivars. Also called summer lilac, the medium- to large-sized shrubs can anchor a perennial bed or form a hedge.
You'll be happier with Buddleia if you accept its growth habit, which is not neat and tidy. Its narrow branches support lilac-like clusters of blossoms a foot or two in length, with side branches and blossoms. After a rainfall, the flower-laden branches of some species can droop all over your flower bed. You'll want to allow at least six feet between bushes to keep some semblance of neatness.

But wait till you see the bush covered with fritillaries and tortoiseshells! Even a large swallowtail can land on the cluster, to sip from the many individual blooms.

Butterflies and bees will flock to the honey-scented blossoms, whose dilute nectar is sweetest in midday sun. Near a path or patio, the shrub provides delightful fragrance for you, too.

Do butterflies prefer certain colors of Buddleia? In my garden, Western Tiger Swallowtails visited all varieties (white and various shades of purple/pink/red). But Red Admirals preferred the white Buddleia while it was in bloom. Gardeners in other parts of the country may notice other preferences, if any.

History of the Butterfly Bush

Where did the name Buddleia come from? A seventeenth-century amateur botanist named Reverend Adam Buddle was honored posthumously, when the first butterfly bush reached England in 1774. Though most of today's offerings have Chinese ancestors, this shrub (Buddleia globosa) came from Chile. Its unfamiliar name prompted one nursery tradesman to call it the "Globose Buddlebush." Fortunately, the name didn't stick, but common names like Chilean orange ball tree aren't much better. It's more precise to call it what it is: Buddleia globosa.

Victorian-era explorers brought all kinds of exotic plants back to England. From China came seeds of Buddleia davidii, the hardy species that is most familiar to gardeners today. Named after a French Jesuit missionary, Pere Armand David, B. davidii reached London's Kew Gardens in 1896. Today, nurseries continue to develop new cultivars, like 'Raspberry Wine' (Carroll Gardens) and 'Twilight' (Mountain Valley Growers).

And horticulturists are still combing the Himalayan foothills for as-yet undiscovered Buddleia varieties. Heronswood Nursery lists three acquisitions from recent expeditions to China and Sikkim: new specimens of B. colvilei, B. fallowiana, and an unverified species (feel adventurous?).

Easy to Grow
Another reason for Buddleia's popularity is that it's easy to grow, even hard to kill. After one of my bushes was flattened by a windstorm, it was pruned and uprighted with little fuss. Buddleia davidii tolerates urban pollution and alkaline soil. It's generally pest-free, except for spider mite infestations during drought or stress. It performs adequately in spare soil but prefers a sunny spot with well-drained soil, a light application of fertilizer in spring, and a few deep waterings in summer.

Buddleia can behave like an opportunistic rascal. Says Dalton Durio of Louisiana Nursery, "It always seems to grow best in containers where other, more valuable plants are being grown. These volunteer seedlings come up fast and strong, and they usually succeed in killing the 'host' plant." Buddleia hybridizes easily; volunteer seedlings may not resemble your prized bush.

Politically Incorrect?

Buddleia is at home in disturbed areas, such as road cuts or new development sites. Its flowers have softened wartime London's bombed lots and the slag heaps of Welsh mining towns.
This tendency to be a weedy colonizer, along with its exotic (non-native) status in North America, is now making Buddleia politically incorrect. It's included in the recently published Invasive Plants [Brooklyn Botanic Garden, Handbook #149, 1996, $7.95]. Buddleia davidii has spread from gardens along the Eastern seaboard and the West coast, to roadsides and riparian (streamside) zones. It's not yet considered a serious problem, but it's spreading rapidly.

So what's a responsible gardener to do? Sarah Reichard, who has been monitoring invasive plants at the University of Washington, says she's less concerned about Buddleia's use in urban areas. But if you're growing it near a natural area, watch for volunteer seedlings. Remove them and get rid of the plant if necessary (dig out the roots, which will resprout).
You can also plant a less invasive form of Buddleia like B. globosa or seek native alternatives (watch for article on regional natives in fall issue of BGQ).

Spanning the Seasons

Some Buddleia species, like B. alternifolia, B. asiatica, B. colvilei and B. globosa, bloom on last year's wood. They provide nectar for spring and early-summer butterflies, and they shouldn't be pruned until after blossoming. In mild climates, cut back right after blooming for a second show in fall. Prune these bushes judiciously in fall, to maintain shape and remove old, woody stalks.

Among the many other varieties of Buddleia which bloom on new growth, it's possible to stagger bloom times for a continuous nectar supply. Deadheading (cutting off) spent blossoms will force the plant to keep blooming, in an attempt to produce seed. My Buddleia 'Lochinch,' kept in bloom well into October, brought a Red Admiral into my garden when I'd given up seeing another.

In cold climates, mulch in the fall. Cut back to about a foot high in late winter, before new growth appears. You'll be amazed by the height the shrub attains by midsummer. You'll also get larger flowers and a neater-looking shape.

Hummers and Crawlers

Red-flowering varieties like B. davidii 'Royal Red' will attract hummingbirds, who supplement their nectar diet with protein-rich insects on the bush. Watch for other birds, like bushtits and orioles, seeking an insect meal.

An occasional butterfly chooses Buddleia as a host plant; the Western Checkerspot is the only species listed in the host plant index of James A. Scott's The Butterflies of North America. Butterfly gardeners in northern California report seeing Buckeye caterpillars on Buddleia alternifolia and Echo Blue butterflies laying eggs on Buddleia 'Lochinch.'

{this is not my plant, just wanted to show you how big it can get,its almost as big as this house!}

So , weed or exotic butterfly food, you decide.

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  1. I like it actually, but you just need to know that you have to watch and keep control of it. If it were among my roses, I'd have a problem, but growing randomly on some barron spot..why not? It'll attract the butterflies and what the harm. I don't have a green thumb so I'd be a happy with anything blooming that I didn't have to tend to...just control. Love this post.


  2. Excellent article. Tons of great details. Plant Delights Nursery has a great selection of Buddleia. Check out: (

  3. Very informative post, thank you! I've just bought a cottage in the Blue Mountains (Oz) and discovered a buggery buggery Budleia out front, right now starting to bloom! The local council has published an online list of invasive weeds but this seems not to have inhibited neighbourly cutting-swapping traditions, according to the nurseryman who identified my rather elderly shrub! (I did wonder why I was seeing so many butterflies, a rare sight certainly in Sydney these days!), with the result that native bushland is being threatened by creeping lantana, agapanthus, coriopsis, Queen Anne's Lace, you name it! The cutting and root swappers are probably in the same category as the cat-lovers who swear their moggies (generally between two to four per house round here) are different from the rest of the predatory cat family that occupy their lazy days picking off the small bird population!

    The advice I was given is to judiciously prune and deadhead (and dispose of the seeds) the offending, shade-providing, flutterby-attracting Budleia, while in the meantime plant a flowering native right in front (have selected the beautiful Blueberry Ash) so when it's established, I can root out the Budleia!!!

    We have a bush regeneration method here called the Bradley Method, where a weed-elimination involves progressive stage-based weed removal alongside simultaneous substitution with native grasses, ground covers, under storey, etc. It's labour intensive in the bush (requiring teams of volunteers), but a wonderful technique for the domestic garden given weeds are finally eliminated given you are replacing them with non-weed varieties with similar habits and values.

  4. Care with this plant as it is very invasive and will corwd and eliminate all your other gareden plants.
    I grew two from cuttings and let them lose for about 4 years - too big this year and I am digging them out and planting dwarf varietes.
    The stumps are being replanted in a field about 300 yrd away and nature will do as she seems fit with them. The scent is good but the bush can become an unwieldy monster !


Thank you so much for taking the time to leave me a comment, Rhianna

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