Thursday, April 7, 2011

Native alternatives to butterfly bush

Recently at the Birds & Blooms blogs, Carole Sevilla Brown wrote about the problems butterfly bush is causing in many areas of the United States. Although commonly recommended for butterfly gardeners, the most commonly available butterfly bush in the horticultural trade, Buddleja davidii, is native to east Asia and is an invasive species in many areas of the United States.

So far, Canada's cold climate has apparently prevented B. davidii from becoming naturalized here, except in parts of British Columbia (Tallent-Halsell and Watt, 2009). However, each mature butterfly bush can produce millions of seeds, and these seeds can be spread by cars and trains (Tallent-Halsell and Watt, 2009). So a butterfly bush in Toronto could contribute to the problems our neighbours to the south are facing. In addition, climate change is likely to make Ontario's climate milder and therefore put our wild spaces at greater risk from butterfly bush invasion.

Luckily, there are many alternatives for butterfly gardeners. Growing native species avoids the problems of habitat destruction caused by invasives, and can provide better attraction for butterflies by providing food for caterpillars as well as adult butterflies (Tallamy 2009).

With that in mind, here are a few flowering shrubs native to Ontario, which I found through Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center's Plants Database. This is a great resource for wildlife gardeners throughout the United States and Canada; you can search by state/province, habit, lifespan, light needs, moisture needs, bloom season, bloom colour, and height! Each species description at the Wildflower Center's database includes a wealth of information, including which butterflies' and moths' larvae feed on each plant, and links to their descriptions at Butterflies and Moths of North America (BAMONA).

Native Ontario shrubs to attact butterflies

I'm so glad that Carole wrote her original post, as I didn't realize that butterfly bush was such a problem, nor did I know much about these lovely native shrubs that we can grow instead. I've got seeds for buttonbush stratifying right now, and I plan to look into some of these other shrubs as well. Please click the links for each plant to see gorgeous photos; I hope you'll be as excited about these plants as I am and try some in your garden!

Works cited

  • Nita Tallent-Halsell and Michael S. Watt (2009). The Invasive Buddleja davidii. The Botanical Review, September.
  • Douglas W. Tallamy (2009). Bringing nature home: How native plants sustain wildlife in our gardens (updated and expanded edition) Portland, OR: Timber Press.


  1. Rosemary, this is a great article! And you've saved me some work, because this is the post I was going to write next :) Thanks!

  2. Great Post thank you :D
    thought you might like my machinima film the butterflys tale ~
    bright blessings
    elf ~


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