Table of Contents
Butterfly bushes, also known as Buddleia davidii, are popular among gardeners for their ability to attract butterflies with their colorful flowers. But did you know that they can be invasive, weedy, and have negative impacts on the local ecosystem? Read on to find out all about butterfly bushes and how they can be problematic in many aspects.
About Butterfly Bushes
Butterfly bush is native to China and was first introduced to Europe in the late 1800s. It was later brought to North America as an ornamental plant in the early 1900s. The shrub is named so because of its ability to attract large numbers of butterflies. Its long, tubular flowers are filled with sweet nectar, which provides an important food source, especially for adult butterflies.
While this may be true, some argue that when considering the negative drawbacks of the butterfly bush, there is little benefit to butterflies so much so that the name simply seems to be a marketing strategy rather than anything else.
Butterfly bush is a deciduous shrub, that has masses of flowers and sheds its leaves annually. This shedding process is typically seasonal and happens in response to changes in temperature or daylight hours. It’s found in temperate regions where there are distinct changes in seasons.
During the growing season, it produces new leaves that capture sunlight and convert it into energy through the process of photosynthesis. As the days grow shorter and temperatures drop, it begins to prepare for winter by shedding leaves.
Over time, butterfly bushes have been bred to produce a wide range of flower colors, including purple, pink, white, and yellow. They’re quick to grow and are a popular choice where blank spots need to be filled. Butterfly bush is now widely available in nurseries and garden centers and is a popular choice for home gardens and public spaces.
Butterfly Bushes and the Environment
Butterfly bush grows as high as 15 feet with flowers growing in upright or drooping spikes at the end of the branches. They’re hardy as they can survive many different climates and thrive in poor soil conditions, needing little maintenance to grow with full sun and annual pruning.
The biggest downside to butterfly bushes is that they can easily spread and compete with native plants. This can lead to disrupting local ecosystems and reducing biodiversity. They are considered invasive in many countries and are banned from being sold in some states like Washington and Oregon.
Butterfly bush is highly invasive because they have an extremely successful reproduction cycle using their seeds. A single flower spike can produce more than 40,000 light weighted and winged seeds. They are carried away by wind and water and reproduce dramatically. With the germination rate being more than 80%, the seeds can even stay alive inside the soil for three to five years and start growing when they feel the need to during that time.
Butterfly Bushes and Butterflies
Butterfly bushes are a fast-growing plant that’s a great source of nectar for all pollinators. Many species of butterflies are attracted to the bright colors and sweet scent of the flowers and will often visit the plant in search of nectar.
It’s important to note that while butterfly bushes are great for attracting adult butterflies, they don’t provide a suitable habitat for butterfly larvae (caterpillars) to feed and develop. This is because caterpillars don’t like to feed on butterfly bushes, which leaves no choice for butterflies but to lay their eggs on other plants.
Butterfly bushes can also invade and impact native plants which make suitable food options and nest areas for caterpillars. When caterpillar-friendly native plants get affected, it then will decrease in the population of butterflies in places where butterfly bushes grow.
It’s important to plant a variety of butterfly-friendly plants, including those that are specifically suited for the larval stage of the butterfly so that the entire lifecycle of the butterfly can be supported.
Butterfly Bushes – Can They be Controlled?
If you have butterfly bushes in your garden or are planning to grow them, then here are some tips to stop butterfly bushes from invading other plants:
- Select a non-invasive species of butterfly bush, such as Buddleia davidii ‘Black Knight’, which is less likely to spread and become invasive.
- Cut off the flowers when they start fading, so that the plant can’t produce seeds.
- Collect all fallen-off flowers and don’t let them stay on the soil.
- Dispose of the cut stems properly to prevent them from growing into new plants.
- Deadhead the flowers before they produce seeds to prevent the plant from self-seeding and spreading. Cut off the spent flowers just below the flower head.
- Prune the butterfly bush regularly to prevent it from becoming too large and sprawling. Pruning also helps to control the spread of the plant by removing any new growth.
- Don’t compost any cuttings or pruned material from the butterfly bush, as it may contain seeds that can germinate and grow.
- Keep an eye on the plant and surrounding area for any signs of spreading or new growth. Remove any new growth or seedlings that appear outside of the desired growing area.
Butterfly Bushes – The Non-Invasive Varieties
Although butterfly bush has its benefits, its invasiveness puts this plant down on the list of preferred plants for gardening. But there are varieties of butterfly bush that have been introduced which don’t spread their seeds much. It’s a good idea to check with your local authorities to ensure that the species you choose isn’t considered invasive in your region. The following varieties are less invasive:
- Buddleia davidii ‘Black Knight’
- Buddleia davidii ‘Royal Red’
- Buddleia davidii ‘Pink Delight’
- Buddleia davidii ‘White Profusion’
- Buddleia davidii ‘Miss Ruby’
- Buddleia lindleyana ‘Pink Cloud’
If you choose the noninvasive varieties, it still doesn’t solve the impact on the native plant ecosystem. Remember that butterflies don’t like to lay eggs on butterfly bush, and even a noninvasive butterfly bush would still hinder the population of butterflies.
Butterfly Bushes – the Benefits
Although butterfly bushes have some major drawbacks, they do have some benefits which can’t be disregarded.
- They bloom all through the summer.
- Winter birds can rest inside the larger butterfly bushes.
- They provide nectar for butterflies and other pollinators like hummingbirds and will work well if you choose other plants that’s suitable for a pollinator landscape.
- You don’t need to water them much, just once each spring and then only at times of drought or extreme heat.
- They grow well in poor soil conditions.
Other Pollinator Plants
Pollinator plants are particularly attractive to bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, and other pollinators. These plants typically have showy flowers that are rich in nectar and pollen and are often brightly colored or fragrant to help attract pollinators.
Here are some key pollinator plants that you can include in your garden:
Milkweed is a crucial plant for monarch butterflies, which rely on it as a food source for their caterpillars. The flowers are also a great source of nectar for other pollinators.
Also known as coneflowers, echinacea plants are popular with bees and butterflies for their brightly colored petals and long blooming period.
Lavender is a fragrant herb that produces spikes of purple flowers that are attractive to bees and other pollinators.
Sunflowers are a favorite of bees and hummingbirds for their large, showy flowers and abundant nectar.
Salvia plants, also known as sage, produce spikes of flowers in shades of blue, purple, pink, and red that are attractive to bees and butterflies.
· Bee balm
Bee balm, also known as monarda, produces clusters of brightly colored flowers that are a favorite of hummingbirds and butterflies.
Despite its reputation as a cause of allergies, goldenrod is actually a great source of nectar for bees and butterflies and can be an important late-season food source.
These pollinator plants can be grown using succession gardening techniques so that there will be a continuous supply of flowers in all seasons.
What is Succession Gardening?
By using succession gardening techniques to plant a mix of flowers that bloom throughout the growing season, you can create a vibrant and pollinator-friendly garden that will replace your butterfly bush and provide food and habitat for a wide range of beneficial insects. Here are some key steps to consider if you decide to have alternative plants to butterfly bush:
· Plan Your Garden
Start by planning out your garden space and determining which flowers will grow well in your region and climate. Consider factors like soil type, sun exposure, and available water.
· Choose Your Flowers
Look for a mix of early, mid-season, and late-blooming flowers that will provide nectar for butterflies and other pollinators throughout the growing season. Some good choices include echinacea, zinnias, black-eyed Susans, phlox, coneflowers, and bee balm.
· Plant Your Flowers
Start with early-blooming flowers in the spring, followed by mid-season flowers in the summer, and late-blooming flowers in the fall. Make sure to plant your flowers in an area that gets plenty of suns and has good soil drainage.
· Maintain Your Garden
Water your plants regularly and remove any weeds or dead flowers to keep your garden looking its best. You can also add a layer of mulch to help retain moisture and keep weeds at bay.
How to Remove a Butterfly Bush
It’s important to note that removing a butterfly bush can be a difficult and time-consuming process, especially if the plant has established a deep root system. If you’re not comfortable removing the plant yourself, consider hiring a professional landscaper or arborist to do the job for you. If you would like to have a go at removing the butterfly bush, here are some key steps to follow:
- Cut the butterfly bush down to the ground with pruning shears or a saw. Make the cut as close to the ground as possible.
- Dig around the base of the plant with a shovel to expose the roots. The roots of butterfly bushes can be deep and extensive, so you may need to dig several feet out from the base of the plant.
- Use a digging fork or root saw to loosen and remove the roots. Be sure to remove as much of the root system as possible to prevent the plant from regrowing.
- Dispose of the plant material and roots properly, according to local regulations. Do not compost or dump the plant material in natural areas where it could spread and become invasive.
- Amend the soil with compost or other organic matter to improve soil health and prepare the area for new plantings.
FAQs on Butterfly Bush
Butterfly bushes are considered bad for the environment because they are non-native, invasive, and can outcompete native plant species.
Yes, butterfly bushes are invasive, and this is a problem because they can spread rapidly and crowd out native plant species.
Butterfly bushes can impact native plant species by outcompeting them for resources and altering the composition of plant communities.
Alternatives to butterfly bushes for attracting butterflies include milkweed, Joe Pye weed, coneflower, black-eyed Susan, and phlox.
Native plant species that can be used as alternatives to butterfly bushes include milkweed, ironweed, blue vervain, New England aster, and swamp milkweed.
Non-native plants can be used to attract butterflies, but it is generally better to stick to native species because they are better adapted to the local environment and support a wider range of native insects and wildlife.
To remove a butterfly bush from your garden, cut it down to the ground and dig out the roots as thoroughly as possible.
In place of a butterfly bush, you could plant a native shrub or tree, or a mix of native herbaceous plants and grasses.
To attract butterflies to your garden without using a butterfly bush, provide a mix of nectar plants for adults and host plants for caterpillars, and avoid using pesticides and herbicides.
Butterfly bushes can provide nectar for butterflies and other pollinators, but their negative impact on the environment outweighs this benefit.
Are butterfly bushes bad? As with any plant, they do have their pros and cons. They remain popular for their flowers that not only attract butterflies but also add beauty to any garden.
While the butterfly bush has its benefits, be aware of its potential invasiveness and take steps to prevent its spread. Consider the fact that they can invade native plants which in turn discourages butterfly population growth.
When choosing plants for your garden, look for varieties that are native to your region and climate, and try to include a mix of early, mid-season, and late-blooming plants to provide food for pollinators throughout the growing season. If you do choose to go with butterfly bush, you can always go with the non-invasive varieties and plant-native alternatives to support local biodiversity and ecosystem health.