Better-for-Butterfly Bushes

April 20, 2022

Garden centers are bursting with new plant stock. If you’re like me, you feel like a kid in a candy store. Plants with alluring shapes and vivid colors compete for my attention, each one beckoning me to bring it home.

In early spring, when many native shrubs are still lacking foliage and often weeks or months shy of blossoming, it’s easy to overlook their potential aesthetic value. As you stroll through garden centers, what are some of the factors that influence your selection of shrubs for your landscape design? 

  • Do you consider growing conditions and suitability for your yard?
  • Are design details like growth habit, leaf texture and color, flowering season, and blossom color foremost concerns?
  • Do you take into account a plant’s environmental value?

Without an understanding or appreciation of native plants, it’s easy for consumers to buy plants of ornamental appeal but little environmental value. Take Buddleia, for example, a popular non-native plant commonly called Butterfly Bush. Eye-catching blossoms may attract garden store shoppers and adult butterflies, but its foliage doesn’t support larvae and caterpillars. Like any non-native, it displaces food sources for pollinators.

Instead of butterfly bushes, consider natives of greater environmental value. Clethra Alnifolia, commonly called Sweet Pepperbush and Summersweet, and Hydrangea Quercifolia, also known as Oakleaf Hydrangea, are native shrubs that produce spectacular, spire-shaped flowers in shades of pink and white atop woody stems with attractive foliage in the summer. Plant heights range from 4’ to almost 10’ – well suited as background plants or focal points in a native planting bed. The sweet fragrance of Clethra Alnifolia attracts multitudes of bees and butterflies!

Before choosing any plant, it’s always wise to discuss soil and light conditions with a horticulturist or experienced gardener with native plant knowledge. We’re fortunate in Simsbury to have two respected, reputable nurseries with skilled staff who have offered to share their expertise with budding native plant gardeners. Take advantage of local resources like Bosco’s Garden Center and Warner’s Nursery for more ideas.   

We invite you to take the Simsbury Pollinator Pledge. There are no dues or costs to join Simsbury Pollinator Pathway. We are an all-volunteer organization dedicated to raising awareness of the value of pollinator friendly spaces and native plants.