What to Love and Hate About Butterfly Bushes

Butterfly bush (image) is pretty, a butterfly magnet - and invasive in many areas. It's perennial.
David Beaulieu

Butterfly bush shrub (Buddleia davidii) is known for many things. For starters, it's easy to grow and produces striking flower spikes, which, thanks to the magic of the cultivar developers, now come in a number of colors, including pink and blue. In fact, there is even a multi-colored type (Buddleia x weyeriana 'Bicolor').

And of course, first and foremost, the shrubs are known as a magnet for butterflies, which are the closest thing to real fairies that our gardens will ever enjoy. Red-flowering butterfly bushes will even attract hummingbirds. 

Butterfly bushes are cultivated to suit many different gardening preferences. Some can grow up to 12 feet tall, while others are relatively tiny. Some produce large clusters of flowers while others produce flowering spikes. 

Why Do People Grow Butterfly Bushes?

Butterfly bushes were first brought to England from Asia in 1774 by a botanist named Adam Buddle (for whom the plant was named). New varieties are still being discovered in remote areas of China and the Himalaya.

The popularity of butterfly bushes is easy to explain: they are so easy to grow that it can be hard to kill them! Even a major storm has little effect on these hardy shrubs. They can also thrive in surprisingly harsh environments. For example, they can do well in small containers or in urban settings. It is also resistant to insects, drought, and stress. It requires little attention, so even "weekend gardeners" can enjoy their lovely blooms and resident butterflies.

Is Butterfly Bush Invasive?

So what's not to like about butterfly bush? You'd be surprised! It has its detractors, largely because, in many areas of the United States, it is actually an invasive plant. An invasive is a plant that does not naturally grow in a particular region -- but which is pervasive enough to push out native plants. Invasive plants are problematic because they can alter ecosystems and damage existing flora and fauna. Although not invasive everywhere, the species plant is invasive in enough areas to have given "butterfly bush" a bad name. In fact, several states now classify butterfly bush as a "noxious weed." There are a few good reasons not to plant the butterfly bush.

Fortunately for butterfly bush lovers, there is an answer to the concern about adding exotic plants to the environment. Many new cultivars are seedless or nearly seedless. This means that it's possible to plant beautiful butterfly bushes without risk of harming the environment.

Some seedless (sterile) cultivars include:

  • Asian Moon
  • Blue Chip
  • Chip Jr.
  • Ice Chip
  • Inspired Pink
  • Pink Micro Chip
  • Purple Haze
  • Flutterby Grande cultivars including blueberry cobbler, nectar bush, peach cobbler nectar bush, and many others.

In addition to these, three other cultivars -- Lilac Chip, Miss Molly, and Miss Ruby -- are all low fertility and very unlikely to reproduce.

Choosing a Butterfly Bush

When selecting your butterfly bush, you'll want to keep several factors in mind:

  • If butterfly bushes are not native to your area, you'll want to choose a seedless cultivar
  • You'll want to choose a cultivar that grows to a size that's right for your in-ground or container garden
  • Butterfly bushes come in a huge range of colors, so you can select the color that goes best with your other plantings (or that you personally enjoy)
  • Choose a type of flower that you find aesthetically pleasing. If the bushes aren't in bloom when you buy them, consult an online resource to be sure you love the look of the flowers.