The Butterfly Bush

The butterfly bush, also called Summer Lilac, has a very interesting history.  Originally in the Scrophulariaceae family, it was assigned to the Loganiaceae family in 1975.  Loganiaceae consists of flowering trees and shrubs. Within this family is Buddlejaceae genus which has gained in popularity because of their flowers that attract butterflies.

Buddleia and butterfly bushes are a perfect addition for any butterfly garden.  Other reasons this flowering shrub is so popular include:

  • These are fast growing trees and can fill in any space quickly.

  • As far as butterfly gardens go, these are easy gardening!

  • Bushes are magnets for attracting butterflies and other pollinators but also are flowers that attract hummingbirds to.

  • Buddleia davidii are othen found in big box stores to nurseries and are inexpensive as well. 

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

Buddleia weyeriana
Photo: EasyButterflyGarden

Going back to the beginning of butterfly bush

The buddleia 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 British flora. His hard work and extremely detailed writings resulted in a book English Flora. The 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. More about the current breakdown of suffix endings on the videos at the bottom of the page.

This video goes into more detail of the
naturalization and history of the butterfly bush.

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.*

Why is Buddleia a weed?
(Not to be confused with Butterfly Weed)
While reading, also know that their are hybrids and cultivars now.

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).  Bushes can grow seaside, in mountainous terrains and botanical desert settings. Buddleia flourish in alkaline soils that are well drained.  Some species can grow as high as 100 feet (30 meters). 

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.

Buddleia species that are non-native thrive in warmer climates and can become invasive weeds 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.

Some species are indigenous to the United States, such as Buddleia utahensis which is found in south-west Utah.  In Washington state and Oregon exotics have become menacing and destructive after being introduced to the region.  Over the counter sales of Buddleia are prohibited in these and other states, while other states are standing watch. Buddleia is and 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 shrubs did grow quickly and pruning was requiring continuous management. Around the house pruning regularly to not overwhelm other vegetation was necessary. In the north Bushes can grow as fast but winter helps to prevent out of control growth. Pruning during growing season is still necessary, depending on species. Frequency depends on planting location around property.

The Good News...

With Buddleia continuing to grow in popularity many cultivars and hybrids are eliminating the need to identify shrubs as weeds.  One very popular alternative is the Dwarf Butterfly Bush.  

New world species are more dioecious, or being only a female or male sex, where old world are more monoecious, or having both female and male reproductive parts.

Breaking down Buddleja - Those with the widest distribution around world and a brief description of what's seen in North America.

Buddleja - Expanded detail of species that are seen in North America.

Pruning Butterfly Bush - Once planting your new flowering shrub, pruning is important regardless of location.

How to Attract Butterflies - Placement can make a difference.

Hybrids & Cultivars - This is a simple, yet extensive list of cultivars and hybrids that are commercially available for our landscapes and gardens.

Looking for particular type of Summer Lilac?

Buddleia davidii Orange Eye
 - Many of these fragrant plants are available in hybrids and cultivars.  Sometimes they can be also known as yellow eye.

Blue Buddleia - With a little investigation, this is a list of those shrubs having flower panicles with bluish tones.

BiColor - Plants that have:
             * Individual flowers having multiple colors
             * Individual panicles on the same plant with different colors

Black Knight - Those shrubs with trusses that are a darker purple in color.

This video discusses more of history and diversification,
touchces on the different suffix endings.

This video is for those really wanting to
understand suffix endings - very interesting.

Back from Butterfly Bush to Easy Butterfly

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