Bring on the butterflies (Buddleia)

Buddleia alternifolia Butterfly Bush Plant SelectButterfly bushes (Buddleia daviddii selections) have been extremely popular and successful plants for pollinator gardens in many parts of the country. Unfortunately, this popularity, ease-of-growth, and their abundant seed-set have also caused them become a menace, particularly in wetlands in warmer climates. In fact, few garden plants have caused so much controversy in recent years as B. daviddii.

Fortunately, a related species of butterfly bush, B. alternifolia, is much more “polite”: decades of Silver Fountain butterfly bush, a silver-leaved and more cold-hardy selection of B. alternifolia was selected as Plant Select® winner in 1998 for its adaptability to western gardens, gracefully arching branches, immense lavender flower clusters and beautiful silvery leaves.

Silver Fountain is a large shrub so needs plenty of space to really show off its cascading form. Blooming in late spring, the sweetly fragrant flowers are most attractive to butterflies in the heat of midday. When the blooms have faded, the plant remains attractive because of the interesting grey-green-silvery foliage.

Wildlife benefits
: Silver Fountain butterfly bush attracts bees, butterflies, wasps, hornets, lady beetles, lacewings and moths. Nectar-feeding birds like orioles and bushtits sip on the flowers during the growing season; seed-eaters chow down on the seeds in winter. Buddleia act as both nectaring and food plants to many butterflies, including some that normally feed on other plants.

Some butterfly species attracted to Buddleia (list adapted from Plant Delights Nursery):

  • American Snout
  • Anise Swallowtail
  • Black Swallowtail
  • Common Buckeye
  • Common Checkered-Skipper
  • Compton Tortoiseshell
  • Eastern Comma
  • Eastern Tiger Swallowtail
  • Monarch
  • Mourning Cloak
  • Painted Lady
  • Pearl Crescent
  • Pipevine Swallowtail
  • Sagebrush Checkerspot
  • Two-tailed Tiger Swallowtail
  • Western Tiger Swallowtail

Growing tips: Silver Fountain butterfly bush blooms on old wood, so prune immediately after blooming for shape. It’s okay to prune out dead branches at any time.

View the plant profile here.

At a Oglance:
Silver Fountain Butterly Bush (Buddleia alternifolia ‘Argentea’)

  • Height: 12-15’
  • Width: 10-12’
  • Growth habit: Large shrub with arching branches
  • USDA Hardiness Zones 4-8
  • How to Use: Use in a large shrub border, as an informal hedge, as a specimen in a mixed border and to attract butterflies.
  • Culture: Sunny spots with moderate to dry conditions in most soils–very adaptable. Doesn’t tolerate wet feet so be sure to provide good drainage, especially in winter.
  • Reported to be deer and rabbit resistant

Thanks to Pat Hayward, Plant Select®, for writing this piece.

4 responses to “Bring on the butterflies (Buddleia)”

  1. Bud Lambert says:

    I have one of these growing in my yard. My wife and I and my neighbors love it. It was planted before we bought our house and is still flourishing 20 years later. I have pruned it every 3rd year and it always seems brand new. And in bloom it is breathtaking and very fragrant. Hummingbirds love it!

  2. Terry Tammadge says:

    I’d like to put this Silver Fountain is an area that may be too small.
    Just the right spot, sun-wise; the strip next to my driveway really needs help.

    The usable space is about 5 X 20 and I wanted to be a a bit more showy than ornamental grasses
    and would love to feed butterflies, bees and hummingbirds.

    Can I keep this big beauty under enough control in the space allowed?


    • Ross Shrigley says:

      I’ve seen people keep this great plant on the smaller side. Just remember that it is not like the other Butterfly bushes in the trade. You won’t get any flowers if you cut it back every spring. It only flowers on second year and older growth. You’ll have to plan your cuts to rotate out branches that get to large. Don’t just prune the tips, commit to pruning larger branches hard. Good luck and enjoy!

  3. Jennifer says:

    I’m curious what you mean by “Buddleia act as both nectaring and food plants” do you mean that it is known to host larvae of some butterflies? If so, which species?

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