Does Butterfly Bush Really Spell Doom for Butterflies?

No way, despite the dire warnings. Here's why.

I recently came across an article on the web that demonstrates why Grumpy is your one reliable, unimpeachable source of gardening info. The story, posted on the website of a lifestyle magazine I'll call Great Housekeeping, began with this headline: "Why You Should Never Plant A Butterfly Bush Again."

Butterfly Sitting on Flower of Butterfly Bush
Natalia Ganelin/Getty Images

Huh? Isn't butterfly bush great for butterflies and hummingbirds? Isn't it one of our more popular summer-flowering shrubs? Isn't it easy to grow? Why should we completely stop planting it?

The writer presents three reasons. I shall proceed to piteously debunk them one by one.

1. Butterfly bush in invasive and its seedlings spread everywhere.

There's a kernel of truth here. The most widely planted species, Buddleia davidii, does produce copious seedlings in certain parts of the country, particularly the Northeast and the Pacific Northwest. That doesn't mean it's a plague where you live. Here in the Southeast, I've run into thickets of privet, elaeagnus, Bradford pear, and honeysuckle, but not butterfly bush. Few plants thrive everywhere. Tumbleweed, for example, is a plague in the arid West, but the next time I see one rolling down the street in rainy Alabama, I'll grab my six-shooter, hop aboard my trusty colt, Scout, and chase down some cattle rustlers.

More importantly, many of the new and improved butterfly bushes are sterile and don't produce seedlings. (On the West Coast, these are often sold as "summer lilacs.") They're also much more compact growers than the big, old butterfly bushes that grew 10 feet tall and more. They include the Lo & Behold Series ('Blue Chip,' 'White Chip,' 'Pink Micro Chip,' 'Purple Haze'), the Miss Series ('Miss Molly,' 'Miss Pearl,' 'Miss Ruby'), and the Flutterby Series ('Peach Cobbler,' 'Petite Pink,' 'Tutti Fruitti'). You can see what a lot of these look like by clicking on a previous Grumpy post, "Not Your Mama's Butterfly Bush."

Butterfly Bush - Miss Molly
ZoomTravels/Getty Images

2. Butterfly bush doesn’t benefit butterflies because their caterpillars can’t eat it.

So what? It is a favorite nectar source for adult butterflies – you know, the guys who fly around and lay eggs that hatch into caterpillars. Those caterpillars feed on such things as oaks, willows, black cherry, sassafras, passion vine, aspen, tulip poplar, cudweed, redbud, Queen Anne's lace, grasses, and milkweed – pretty common plants in most places.

WATCH: The Best Flowers For Butterflies

3. Butterfly bush isn’t native, so it will cause the collapse of the food chain and take butterflies with it.

Right. Know what else isn't native to North America? Honeybees. Neither are most of the fruits, vegetables, grains, and animals we eat. I don't know about you, but I'm shaking in fear. Time for my afternoon gin-and-tonic with a slice of non-native lime.

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