Butterfly Bush

I don’t have a butterfly bush in my yard, but now that I know more about them, I wish I had the space to plant one or two. They bloom from late spring until frost, have a pleasing scent, attract butterflies and hummingbirds, and require very little care. What’s not to like?

Butterfly Bush and Summer Lilac are two of the common names for the 100 or so plants in the genus Buddleja. You’ve probably see this called Buddleia. When Carolus Linnaeus was naming this genus, he spelled it Buddleja and it was never officially changed, though the alternate spelling is quite common. The name is in honor of Adam Buddle (1662-1715), a botanist from England.  Species of Buddleja are native to the Southern United States south to Chile, and also to Africa and the warmer parts of Asia. Of these, almost all of the varieties commercially available today are a type of Buddleia davidii, which is from China.

Buddleja are perennial shrubs, occasionally trees, but behave differently depending on where you live. They are recommended for zones 5-10. In the warmer zones, where winter temperatures stay above 20 °, they are evergreen, keeping their leaves year round. In the mid zones, they are deciduous, dropping their leaves in the fall. In my area, zones 5-6, they are more like a herbaceous perennial than a shrub, dying back to the ground each fall.  They are hardy to -20°.

Most species of Butterfly Bush grow 6-15 feet tall, and about 4-15 feet wide. Their growth is not very tidy, with long arching branches. After a rain, they may droop down to the ground. Flowers are produced in cone shaped clusters from 4-20 inches long. The blooms come in a wide range of colors, in all shades from white, pink to almost red, purples, orange and yellow.  Flowers are full of nectar and strongly scented and attractive to bees, moths, butterflies and hummingbirds.

Buddleja are easy to care for. They are tolerant of poor soil, pollution, and drought and are relatively pest free. They would prefer well drained soil and a sunny spot, but don’t require much water. Scorching sun does not bother them, the leaves do not burn, and the flowers do not fade. Because they grow so quickly, they are good for naturalizing large areas, and for covering fences, buildings and other structures. In the warmest areas, new buds do not open when the temperature is over 90°. These areas get their best flower display in spring and fall.

Butterfly Bush are beginning to be a problem in the United States, and are now listed as an invasive species. They are quick to grow on roadsides and near streams, and in disturbed areas such as construction sites.  Buddleja spread easily by seed, so gardeners who live near natural areas are encouraged to remove seedlings before they can spread. It is also recommended that you remove spent flowers before the seeds can be distributed. Flowers do not fall off on their own, you’ll need to help them.

Plants that grow from Buddleja re-seeding may not come true to the parent plant. If you want a new plant just like your old one, it is easy to grow by rooting a cutting. Butterfly Bush are tough, they can be pruned at any time, and will grow back quickly. As one source put it, they are easy to grow, hard to kill.


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One Response to “Butterfly Bush”

  1. Kem Says:

    I have 3 of them in our yard! The oldest one is about 5′ wide and 6′ tall. I trim mine back to about 18″ tall each spring and that seems to keep them somewhat neater in their growing habit. I’ve had as many as 15 swallow tail butterflies on the largest plant. They also draw humming bird moths (like this one: http://www.cirrusimage.com/moths_hummingbird_clearwing.htm).
    They are VERY invasive and I probably spend way too much time pulling volunteer butterfly bushes, but I do think they’re pretty and you can’t beat them for drawing butterflies.

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