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Butterfly Bush Plants - Magnet for Swallowtails


A tiger swallowtail drawing nectar from

A tiger swallowtail drawing nectar from a Buddleia davidii.

David Beaulieu

Taxonomy of Butterfly Bush Plants:

Plant taxonomy classifies butterfly bush as Buddleja davidii, more commonly given as Buddleia davidii.

Plant Type for Butterfly Bush:

Buddleia davidii is a perennial. It is also considered a shrub, although many people don't think of it as that.

Characteristics of Butterfly Bush Plants:

There are many cultivars of Buddleia davidii, and exact plant characteristics will vary. Growing conditions will also have an impact on the plant's mature size. But generally speaking, Buddleia davidii can get 6'-12' tall and have a spread of 4'-15'. Blooms on the plants can be purple, pink, white, or red, and they usually have an orange "throat" in the center. Buddleia davidii plants will bloom throughout the summer. Leaves are lance-shaped and grayish-green on their undersides.

USDA Plant Hardiness Zones for Butterfly Bushes:

The climate is most favorable for growing Buddleia davidii in USDA planting zones 5-10.

Sun and Soil Requirements for Butterfly Bush:

Butterfly bush plants like full sun and a well-drained soil. Buddleia davidii is a relatively drought-tolerant shrub.

Butterfly Bush in Garden Design:

Even if you don't care about attracting wildlife, you can use Buddleia davidii for aesthetic purposes. Buddleia davidii bears long flower spikes with clusters of flowers. As a tall plant, butterfly bush is a good choice for the back row of a perennial border. To achieve maximum visual appeal, mass plantings of butterfly bush together. The natural unruliness of butterfly bush plant lends itself to use in "cottage gardens."

Plant Care for Butterfly Bush:

Mulch Buddleia davidii in the fall, then prune the plants back to the ground in late winter. This perennial will re-emerge from its roots in spring; butterfly bush flowers on new wood (new growth). Pruning tends to improve blooming, giving you incentive to prune it. You essentially want to treat butterfly bush plant as if it were an herbaceous perennial rather than a shrub.

Wildlife Attracted by Butterfly Bush:

Buddleia davidii has a prime place in butterfly gardens, and it is particularly adept at attracting tiger swallowtails. But it also attracts hummingbirds, making it a must-have for hummingbird gardens, too. And don't forget the bees: Buddleia davidii will also attract the bees that will pollinate other plants in your garden. Fortunately, they are rabbit-proof flowers.

Caveats Concerning Butterfly Bush:

Buddleia davidii is considered invasive in some areas, including the Pacific Northwest in the U.S. Confine the plant within the bounds of your garden by deadheading, since the plant spreads via seed.

More About Butterfly Bush:

Don't confuse butterfly bush plants (Buddleia davidii) with butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa). Butterfly weed is a type of milkweed and serves as a host for the caterpillars of monarch butterflies. Adult tiger swallowtails and black swallowtails enjoy its nectar. Both perennials are sometimes referred to simply as "the butterfly plant." They are, however, unrelated.

Buddleia davidii 'Black Knight' is one of the most popular cultivars of butterfly bush. Its purple blooms are so dark as to be almost black flowers.

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