RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—People love butterfly bushes. They’re beautiful, colorful, and there’s no debating it, they draw tons of butterflies into your yard. But there are two big problems with these plants, explains Doug Tallamy, PhD, professor and chair of the department of entomology and wildlife ecology at University of Delaware in Newark, and author of Bringing Home Nature: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants (Timber Press, April, 2009). They stem from the fact that Nature never meant for these bushes to be here, so the plants aren’t equipped to feed the beneficial bugs and birds in our region of the world. This disrupts the entire food web—and that can come back to bite us in the butt.
THE DETAILS: The first problem? The butterfly bush has been placed on a number of government and university invasive species lists because of its ability to spread easily and outcompete native plants. Originally from Asia, these plants have virtually no natural predators here, so they infest areas and crowd out native plants that provide food for native bugs, birds, and other animals. The second problem with the beloved bush? While it draws butterflies with its nectar, it does not supply butterfly larvae with food, which means they’ll have to expend time and energy finding another place to lay their eggs. So if you want the best for those butterflies that visit your garden, it’s good to have plants that offer not just the nectar, but also act as a host site. Especially since some of the plants that are better for butterflies are getting crowded out. “Many people think all plants are the same. But when invasive plants grow, they take up space native plants could occupy,” says Tallamy. “We’ve got to put the right ones back where they belong.”