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The problem with Buddleia davidii

Here in the Pacific Northwest and west of the Cascade Mountains, we are experiencing many problems with butterfly bushes. Buddleia davidii shrubs are invading the banks of our waterways and displacing native plants.

I remember the first time I saw butterfly bushes down at the end of the southern Oregon coast just before the turn of the century over two decades ago. Along the banks near the mouth of the Winchuck River just south of Brookings, the plants lined the banks of the waterway. From what I could see, it was only one species that grew there. Seeing it in full bloom, I thought how beautiful. It wasn’t until years later that I learned what a noxious weed it was (thank you, Lisa Albert) and that Oregon banned it.

I loved the plant I had growing in my Washington garden because it brought in the butterflies. Reluctantly I took it out, and it is now on the Class B noxious weed list in Washington.

Now I consider the plants ugly for what they are doing to the environment and hope it will soon be banned in Washington as it is in Oregon.The plants also displace butterflies when the shrubs take over and crowd out native plants that the caterpillars depend on for food and survival. In the long run, they harm a vital group of pollinators. Butterfly bushes only support one stage of a pollinator’s life and displace critical plants necessary for other critical periods of their life. It doesn’t seem reasonable for me to grow the shrub with many other great pollinator plants that won’t displace caterpillar host plants.

To my dismay, I recently tried to talk someone out of planting one, and they grew it anyway.

There are sterile hybrids; however, they can still throw fertile seeds (less than 2% of viable seeds are still considered infertile). Those babies can revert to producing copious amounts of viable seed when they grow up.

Here is a list of the ones approved for growing, transporting and propagation in Oregon that only produce less than 2 percent viable seed.

Buddleia ‘Asian Moon’

Buddleia ‘Blue Chip’

Buddleia ‘Blue Chip Jr.’

Buddleia ‘Ice Chip’ (Formerly ‘White Icing’)

Buddleia ‘Inspired Pink’

Buddleia ‘Pink Micro Chip’

Buddleia ‘Purple Haze’

FLUTTERBY GRANDÉ™ Blueberry Cobbler Nectar Bush

FLUTTERBY GRANDÉ™ Peach Cobbler Nectar Bush

FLUTTERBY GRANDÉ™ Sweet Marmalade Nectar Bush

FLUTTERBY GRANDÉ™ Tangerine Dream Nectar Bush

FLUTTERBY GRANDÉ™ Vanilla Nectar Bush

FLUTTERBY PETITE™ Snow White Nectar Bush

FLUTTERBY™ Pink Nectar Bush

The following cultivars are interspecific hybrids and not regulated under Oregon’s noxious weed quarantine. As the above list, they are allowed in Oregon. The problem is they have yet to be assessed for sterility even though they show low fertility.

Buddleia ‘Lilac Chip’

Buddleia ‘Miss Molly’

Buddleia ‘Miss Ruby’

Buddleia ‘Miss Violet’

In allowing these plants in, I believe Oregon and Washington are not looking at the entire picture. Yet, we as gardeners can be responsible in our gardens and keep them out. We can support butterflies with a vast array of plants at our disposal.

In my opinion, if we genuinely want to help pollinators, we have to support all stages of their lives, not just the flutterers. I can’t speak for other areas with different climates, yet in my neck of the woods, this means choosing not to plant Buddleia davidii, sterile hybrids or interspecific hybrids.
Plants to Butterfly With

Caterpillar Host Plants

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