Butterfly Bush Pros and Cons

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. And thanks to the magic of cultivar developers, the flowers now come in a number of colors, including pink and blue. In fact, there's even a multi-colored type, Buddleia x weyeriana 'Bicolor.'

Of course, 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 small. Some varieties produce large clusters of flowers while others produce flowering spikes. 

History and Popularity

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

The popularity of butterfly bushes is no surprise as they're beautiful, easy to grow, and require minimal day-to-day care. Even major storms have little effect on these hardy shrubs. They also thrive in harsh environments. For example, they can do well in small containers or in urban settings. They're also resistant to insects, drought, and stress. The bushes require little attention, so even weekend gardeners can enjoy their lovely blooms and resident butterflies.

Butterfly Bush Control

While the plant is enjoyed by many, butterfly bush does have detractors. In many areas of the United States, it's actually considered an invasive plant—one 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 is meddlesome enough to have given the plant a bad name. In fact, several states now classify butterfly bush as a "noxious weed." These are a few good reasons not to plant the butterfly bush.

Fortunately for butterfly bush lovers, there's an answer to the concern about adding invasive 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, keep several factors in mind:

  • If butterfly bushes are not native to your area, choose a seedless cultivar.
  • 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 select the color that goes best with your other plantings.
  • 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.