Butterfly Bushes

It is important the beginner gardener have an understanding all butterfly bushes, also known as summer lilac. These shrubs are appealing for many reasons:

Monarch Butterflies on Butterfly Bush

  • As far as butterfly gardens go, this shrub makes it Easy!

  • They grow fast, quickly filling in any space.

  • The most common purple
    to lavender colors are sold everywhere from big box stores to nurseries.

  • Buddleia davidii are very inexpensive.

  • Magnets for attracting butterflies.

Photo: EasyButterflyGarden

  • Grows in just about any well drained soil types,
    flourishing in poor and gravelly/sandy soils.

These flowering bushes are very popular and great for attracting butterflies, but many are also considered a weed! (Don't confuse with Butterfly Weed.)

Let's go back to the beginning...

The butterfly bush genus was named after Reverend Adam Buddle (1662-1715). Buddle was an amateur taxonomist (one who classifies plant, etc.) and bryophyte (one who studies land plants that don't have true vascular tissue/non-vascular plants).

Buddle studied early flora. His hard work and extremely detailed writings resulted in a book English Flora. His book was never published but upon the discovery of the impressive reference, Buddle was recognized as an outstanding botanist, or plant scientist.

After Buddle's death a collection of flowering species from the west Indies was studied and given the name Buddleja. These same species were examined by Carl Linnaeus, father of biological plant classification, or Linnaean Taxonomy.

Linnaeus officially termed these specific bushes as Buddleja americana. It was this time period where the Buddleja species of plants was really noticed.

So why all the different spellings - Buddleja, Buddleia, Buddlia and Buddlea?

The short story...

Early taxonomists argued that the 'ja' Latin suffix on Buddleja was not correct. Although the argument still remains, today European taxonomists are likely to use the spelling buddleja, whereas everyone else uses various spellings of Buddleia, buddlia and buddlea.

Buddleia Species:

There are roughly 100 genus of buddleia. Names can range from Buddleia japonica which is native to Japan to Buddleia cordata (Greek for 'heart-shaped') which is native to Mexico. Most Buddleia are deciduous.

Deciduous vegetation sheds their leaves in fall when winter sets in and remain absent for part of a year. Some Buddleia semi-deciduous, while shedding leaves others will begin to grow back. The last category would
be evergreen, which Buddleia species can also be.

It is from these genus types that hybrids and cultivars are born. With this new category of hybrids there already exists more than 150 new types of Buddleia bushes.

Buddleia species we are likely to be more familiar with in North America are:

  • Buddleia davidii

    By far the most common species in America, Buddleia davidii, flowers in the summer and growth averages 10 - 14 feet tall. 
Buddleia davidii
Photo: EaxyButterflyGarden

           Examples are the Black Knight Butterfly Bush, the Royal
              Red Butterfly Bush
and the White Butterfly Bush.    


  • Buddleia globosa

    This was the first Buddleia in cultivation.  The more common of this species are the Orange Ball Tree and Lemon Ball, which is yellow.

  • Buddleia alternifolia

    This is a fragrant weeping tree that is also called Fountain Buddleia.  Leaves on this Buddleia alternate and are silvery in color along with it's bark.  Alternifolia grows about 12 feet tall and 15 feet wide and has long purple flowers drape from the branches.

It has become common to interchange all Buddleia as the Butterfly Bush because of how they all attract butterflies.
*Buddleia davidii technically is The Butterfly Bush.*

Pruning Butterfly Bush -
    Once you plant your new bush, make sure you groom it properly.

Why is Buddleia a weed?

Originally considered ornamental, buddleia always attracts butterflies and with them, a sweet rich fragrant smell.

So why is this considered a weed? Buddleia's origins are a tropical shrub that has no real medicinal values as other weeds may have. Their preferred environment globally is 40 degrees north latitude stretching 40 degrees south latitude. Most species are not native to North American regions, many come from China. This is the same around the world where Buddleia are introduced as ornamental bushes.

Buddleia successfully grows in different soil types, including poorer soils that average a pH of 6.5 or below (they can grow as high as 7.8 pH). These weeds can grow seaside, in mountainous terrains and botanical desert settings. Buddleia flourish in alkaline soils that are well drained. Because of their ability to survive, buddleia has also been called the Flower of the Ruins. This name originated after World War I when it was the first plant to return after the bombed out Europe showed no vegetation for some time.

Species that are non-native thrive in warmer climates and can become invasive if not managed. In colder climates Buddleia grows well but behaves more like a perennial that becomes dormant in winter where it is less likely to become invasive. Once there is an established root system they are able to successfully survive in extended droughts.

In Washington state and Oregon the weed is becoming menacing and destructive. Over the counter sales of Buddleia are prohibited in these and other states, while others are standing watch. Buddleia has naturalized in some states. These include California, Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia. Countries "on watch" that Buddleia not grow out of control include New Zealand and France. England has a combination of the naturalization of the bush, but they are also watching that in not grow out of control.

Residing personally in both the south and north, there is a difference in how butterfly bushes grow. In the south Buddleia did grow quickly and pruning was requiring continuous management. Around the house pruning regularly to not overwhelm other vegetation was necessary. In the north Buddleia doesn't grow as fast and winter helps to prevent out of control growth. Pruning during growing season is necessary. Frequency depends
on location around house and property.


  • With buddleia growing fast in popularity there is some really
    good news
    ...  Through technology many are being developed today that are not invasive. One example is the Dwarf.

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