Why isn’t the Butterfly Bush listed? Butterfly bush (Buddleja davidii) is commonly touted as a “must have” for attracting butterflies. While there is no denying they draw tons of butterflies with their showy, nectar rich blooms – they also harm butterflies by posing a threat to the larger ecosystem.
What’s the problem?
Butterfly bush is a non-native invasive species from Asia. Because it spreads easily, and has no natural predators in our region, it outcompetes native plants greatly reducing the diversity of food and shelter for sustaining wildlife.
The second problem with butterfly bush is that, while it draws butterflies with its nectar, it does not supply butterfly larvae with food. This means the bush lures in butterflies, distracting them with promises of sweet nectar – but meanwhile these butterflies will have to expend time and energy finding another place to lay their eggs. If an acceptable host plant is not nearby, the adult butterfly will not be able to produce the next generation of offspring.
What about cultivars bred to be “non-invasive” are those ok?
Several varieties are now appearing on the market being advertised as non-invasive. Unfortunately, when these cultivars break sterility and cross pollinate with invasive forms of butterfly bush, they take on the invasive characteristics. An example of this can be found in the callery pear (aka bradford pear), which was brought to the US as a “sterile” non-invasive landscaping tree. It has since broken sterility and can now be found spreading throughout woodlands and other habitats.
So what can I plant instead?
There are many alternatives that do a much better job supporting butterflies and the larger food web. For example, an oak tree supports over 500 species of Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) while providing shelter for a variety of other wildlife.
For caterpillar food plants, consider trees and shrubs like Black Cherry, Tuliptree, Northern Spicebush, blueberries, Gray Dogwood, Ninebark, Hoptree and Pipevine, and herbaceous perennials including American or Maryland Senna, Blue Wild Indigo, violets, milkweeds and asters.
For nectar, in addition to the plants listed above, you can’t beat mountain mints, Common Buttonbush, and Coastal Sweetpepperbush. What thirsty butterfly could resist pink clouds of joe pye weed, bold purple New York Ironweed, or sunburst yellow coneflowers? From late summer through fall, the shimmering yellows of goldenrods and the many bright hues of asters are a prolific source of food for hungry butterflies and native bee species, while hosting many other insects that provide essential food for birds.