What To Plant Instead Of Butterfly Bush?

Butterfly bush is liked by many farmers because of its name and its purple flowers. Even though this plant looks innocent and does attract and help some butterflies by giving them nectar, there are better, equally colorful ways for gardeners to attract and help butterflies.

The U.S. Forest Service says that invasive species are to blame for the fall of 42% of endangered or threatened species in the U.S. and 18% of endangered or threatened species in the U.S.

Invasive species directly compete with native species for room, water, light, food, and nutrients. They move and change the communities of native plants, hurt animal habitats and water quality, and could cause more soil erosion.

The federal government says that nearly one-quarter of the 20,000 plant species that are native to North America are in danger of going extinct. Many of these are in danger because their habitats are disappearing. By growing great native plants in your yard, you can help stop this trend.

What To Plant Instead Of Butterfly Bush

A plant is called native if it has always lived in a certain area or ecosystem without being brought there by humans. There are a lot of good reasons to grow natural plants. First, these plants are better suited to the land, water, and weather than exotic plants that grew in other parts of the world.

They need less water, fertilizer, and chemicals. Second, it’s not likely that they will get away and spread to other areas, destroying native habitats. Third, they help birds and insects that are local to the area by giving them shelter and food. Exotic plants don’t do this.

So why should you avoid the butterfly bush?

The butterfly bush, or Buddleja davidii, is not from North America; it comes from Asia. In fact, not a single moth that lives in the area eats butterfly bush. The plant can also spread quickly.

Butterfly bush has a lot of seeds that can easily spread outside of yard areas and into “natural areas” where it will crowd out native plants that caterpillars need to eat. This is bad because there won’t be any adult butterflies if there aren’t any caterpillars.

People often buy butterfly bushes because they want to draw butterflies, but they probably don’t know that the plant hurts native animals more than it helps them.

In the end, you’ll want to plant local plants to give butterflies, birds, and other important wildlife what they need. And there are a lot of native plants that will make your outdoor area look nice and attract butterflies.

Some animals need certain kinds of plants to live. As an example, monarch butterfly larvae can only live on native milkweed. This means that butterflies can’t live without milkweed. If they don’t have it, they can’t finish their life cycle and their numbers go down.

Depending on where you live and what you want to do with your yard, there are easy-to-grow and BEAUTIFUL native plants that will help butterflies and other animals.


Even though it grows well in our area, Butterfly Bush is not from North America. The Buddleja genus was first found in central China. 

It then spread across Asia and to the Americas, where it changed into more than 140 species. B. davidii, the type that is grown most often in our area, comes from China.


Butterfly Bush is a bush that loses its leaves in the fall and can grow up to 15 feet tall. The 5–10-inch-long leaves grow on opposite sides of the stem and have rough ends. Butterfly Bush flowers from the middle of summer to the start of fall.

Flowers grow in spikes at the end of stems that can hang down or stand up. The species that grows in the wild has white petals with orange or yellow cores.

Most yard varieties are purple, but they can also be pink, blue, magenta, yellow, or maroon.


Butterfly Bush is very good at making new plants, which gives it an edge over native flowering shrubs. It is very good at making and spreading seeds.

A study at Longwood Gardens found that a single flower spike had more than 40,000 seeds. The shrub grows up quickly and often makes very light seeds with wings in its first year of life. These seeds can move long distances by water or wind.

About 80% or more of the seeds start to grow. These seeds can live in the ground for three to five years, and any roots that are cut can grow back.

Negative Impacts

Pollinators can get help from Butterfly Bush, but only at one point in their lives. It draws in a lot of butterflies because it has a lot of juice. But butterflies need host plants where they can lay their eggs and feed their larvae.

No bug that lives in the area eats the leaves of the Butterfly Bush.

If Butterfly Bush was just a pretty yard shrub, it would be less of a problem. But because it spreads easily and has a high rate of reproduction, Butterfly Bush takes the place of native shrubs outside of the yard, in natural areas.

It grows in sunny places with good drainage, like fields, roadsides, the edges of woods, and riverbanks, where native plants used to grow.

Caterpillars needed those natural shrubs that are no longer there to eat. There won’t be any adult butterflies if there are no caterpillars. Birds could not live without worms.


Once Butterfly Bush is established, it can be hard to take care of. Seedlings can be taken out by hand. Mature plants can be dug up and pulled out of the ground. If you don’t get rid of the roots, they will grow back.

Planting a native ground cover in the area around the removal spot will stop new seedlings from growing there in the future. You must get rid of all plant matter by burning it or putting it out with the trash. If you leave branches on the ground, they can grow into new bushes.

If you already have Butterfly Bush in your yard and don’t want to get rid of it, you can stop it from spreading by cutting off the old flower heads in the fall, before the seeds start to spread.

Throw away the flower heads in a planned way. Don’t put grass clippings or flower heads in natural places or compost piles.

Goats can be used to get rid of Butterfly Bush because they eat it. Even though grazing alone can’t get rid of the weed completely, it can be controlled by combining it with another way, like pulling it out by hand.

Non-invasive variants

Butterfly Bush, which is supposed to not spread to other areas, is new to the yard market. These plants were made so that they don’t make as many seeds. If you have to have a Butterfly Bush, these ones might work, but keep in mind that they don’t help butterflies as much as native flowering bushes do.

And in the past, many plants that were said to be non-invasive turned out to be just the opposite. One example is the multiflora rose. Eco-friendly gardeners should choose plants that grow in their area.

Native substitutes for Butterfly Bush

Instead of planting a Butterfly Bush, choose a natural flowering shrub that grows well in your area and attracts pollinators. Try planting Sweet Pepperbush, also called Summersweet (Clethra alnifolia) or Virginia Sweetspire (Itea virginica), in a sunny, open yard or landscape.

Try Buttonbush (Cephalanthis occidentalis), which is food for moths, or New Jersey Tea (Ceanothus americanus) if the soil is wetter. You can also plant rows of tall native flowers.

Blazing Star (Liatris), Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), Giant Hyssop (Agastache), Joe-Pye Weed (Eutrochium) species, and Milkweed (Asclepias) species are all plants that moths like to eat. Click here for more ideas on how to plant for butterflies.