The Plant Native

Are butterfly bushes invasive?

Yes—butterfly bushes are invasive plants. Butterfly bushes are native to Asia. Invasive plants have the ability to spread quickly and choke out native plant life. While the flowers provide some nectar for butterflies, butterfly bushes are not host plants for any North American butterflies. Think of them like soda for butterflies—they are a sweet treat for adults but don’t offer the food or habitat of a host plant.

Remove butterfly bushes and replace them with Milkweed, which is the host plant of the monarch butterfly.

Don’t let the name fool you

“Butterfly bushes” are a true testament to the power of naming and marketing. Butterfly bushes are native to Asia. They were brought over in the 1800s as landscaping bushes. In recent years, big box garden centers have marketed the plant through colorful tags and signage, touting their ability to attract butterflies. Don’t fall for it!

Why butterfly bushes are bad

Butterfly bushes are not good in gardens for two reasons:

  1. They spread rapidly: a single plant can send out hundreds of thousands of seeds
  2. They take away space and food from crucial butterfly host plants, like milkweed.

Both of these elements combined make them an invasive plant.

Butterfly bushes—a monster in our midst

Let me pitch you a movie. The scene opens in a front yard in suburbia. It’s morning—the sun is rising, turning the clouds a gentle pink. We see a beautiful garden in the front yard, with several butterfly bushes swaying in the breeze. It’s fall, and the once-purple flowers are turning into seed pods. In a few weeks, each long branch will end in a clustered cone.

And then suddenly...

A breeze lifts its branches. We see thousands of seeds released, each caught on the breeze. They drift everywhere: throughout the yard, in neighbors’ yards, into the street. A stroller rolls by, catching seeds in its wheels and transplanting them to a house a mile away. The car in the driveway catches seeds under its wipers, inadvertently bringing them places hundreds of miles away.

The music suddenly becomes ominous.

We see the text onscreen:

A single flower spike on a butterfly bush can release up to 40,000 seeds

Butterfly bush seeds have a germination rate of 80%

The movie cuts to a monarch butterfly, flitting around the garden. We watch her search and search and search for the only place she will lay her eggs—Milkweed. (Milkweed is the only plant that a monarch caterpillar eats, so monarch moms only lay their eggs there.)

Without milkweed, monarchs cannot survive

We see the monarch mom fly off in vain. There is no food for her babies here. The butterfly bush continues to smugly shed seeds, further reducing the monarch habitat through its invasiveness. Next spring, there will be even less food for monarchs.

Replace butterfly bushes with Milkweed

And it’s so easy to plant! There are many kinds of Milkweed, each with gorgeous flowers. Plant Milkweed and help monarch moms and babies.

Sadly, there are many invasive plants in our gardens

Butterfly bush is not alone. Common landscaping choices like English ivy or porcelain grape vines are also invasive. All these plants were brought to America from other places—mainly for landscaping reasons. These plants are so successful at reproducing that they have choked out native plants. We have a round-up of other common, invasive plants if you’d like to know more. 

Remove butterfly bushes as soon as you can

Removing butterfly bushes is straightforward: all it takes is a shovel and a contractor trash bag.

  1. Cut down the butterfly bush branches
  2. Put them in a contractor trash bag (invasive plants cannot be composted)
  3. Dig up the roots: dig in a circle around the stem until you can lift the rootball out
  4. Put the rootball into a contractor bag and throw it out with the trash
  5. Plant Milkweed!

The butterflies will thank you.

Help all the butterflies: plant native

Milkweed is just one native plant that helps butterflies. There are lots of other native host plants that support butterflies and pollinators. Planting native ensures our gardens will thrive no matter what weather arrives in our home area, and cuts down on watering and work (especially compared to lawns!) And a yard with native plants will be filled with butterflies and songbirds. Find inspiration on what to plant in our native plant guides:

Or explore by your region:

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