great shrub: the ‘other’ butterfly bush

IT’S THE BUTTERFLY BUSH YOU DON’T SEE SO OFTEN, but the one I like best. Not because I’m finicky–this is no rare or expensive plant, and is as gangly and sometimes unkempt as its cousins–but Buddleia alternifolia ‘Argentea’ just makes me happy every June. Apparently the butterflies agree. OK, maybe calling it a “great shrub” is a stretch, since it’s just OK except when it’s in bloom, but I do love the old thing. Doesn’t that count for something? Here’s why:

You don’t cut the fountain (or little-leaf) butterfly bush to the ground each year (as you do here with the more common B. davidii cultivars) so it gets really big (about 12 feet tall and just as wide) even in my cold Zone 5, an arching, fountain-like cascade of lavender blossoms produced on last year’s wood.

It’s fast growing.

Its foliage is willow-like, and in the ‘Argentea’ (meaning silver-leaved) cultivar I grow, a pleasing grayish-green, if not wildly silver.

Its flowers are fragrant, like those of its cousins. Deadheading after bloom will somewhat reduce the messy twiginess, especially of older plants.

And like I said, the butterflies really like it.

Sources for Buddleia alternifolia:

  1. Todd says:

    This Buddleia is absolutely gorgeous! It’s sweeping grace lets my mind run.

    I have to have one, my plant collector guilt is making me!

    Thanks Margaret for always introducing me to outstanding shrubs!

  2. DeborahB says:

    I was at the Denver Botanic Gardens last week, and they had several of these in glorious peak bloom. I suspect they would suffer in my zone 4, but I’m tempted to try.

  3. Terryk says:

    It is very pretty.

    Do they land up setting seed like the regular buddleia?

    I have four shrubs from the one I planted and I’m starting to look at them in a different light.

    But of course when they are in bloom they are so pretty and like everyone I love the butterflies that flock to them

  4. Growing vegetables says:

    Lovely post, as always Margaret. Thanks to introduce this lovely shrub. My daughter called it “Butterfly plant”. One of my cousins was asking whether it will survive in zone 3 or, not. Any suggestion?

  5. Charlie from South Central PA says:

    Margaret, I am trying to stick with native plants to my area. Do you know if this is native to south central PA?

  6. Abby says:

    I usually cut back my B. davidii but didn’t get a round tuit this year. The old growth has sprouted leaves. Will blossoms follow or are the blossoms only on new growth? We shall see!

  7. terryk says:

    Abby, I have B. davidii also and some years I don’t get to cut back. It will bloom and you should have a really beautiful large shrub filled with flowers. I cut it back this year so it was not a monster shrub.

    Now I have to dig out of the garden the “baby” ones that are really nice full size shrubs that sprouted from seeds of the original one!

  8. balsamfir says:

    Re: Buddleia in zone 4. I tried one for several years. It limped through the winter, but never got the strength to put up a decent branch before the next winter came around. Then it died. At that time, we were -27F at night for several weeks each winter, with moderate snow cover. If you were in a warmer part of zone 4, or have a warm pocket, I’d try it, just in case. Unfortunately, I’m not.

  9. Jayne says:

    Thank you for reminding me about that wonderful shrub. I had one in my first garden, probably close to 20 years ago, and it always looked so graceful. I had forgotten about it!

  10. CB Ballard says:

    Happy Birthday, Margaret. Hope your day has been everything you wanted. Thanks for sharing. I return often. I enjoy your website.
    Hope you have many more,

  11. fallsvillagegardener says:

    Any word on whether these also attract hummingbirds? I’ve been thinking about putting in one of the more standard varieties because I’ve read that hummers, in addition to butterflies, like them, and I always try to please my hummers.

  12. Deborah says:

    So glad to hear you love this buddleia. I’ve had mine in northeast Pennsylvania for about 18 years, and couldn’t agree more. Have you ever succeeded in taking cuttings of it? I’m weighing some of the branches down under stones and hoping they might root.

  13. OldSaybrookGardener says:

    I wonder what this plant would be like near a spiraea x vanhouttei. It has the same enormous (if allowed) arching fountains of color, only this time in white. Interesting to ponder what it would be like given their slighting differing bloom periods – april/may for spiraea, june-? for buddleia

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, OldSaybrookGardener. It seems old-fashioned like the Spiraea to me, too. The Buddleia here is June, typically, for maybe three weeks. Hope to see you soon again.

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Lenore. The good news is, it wasn’t developed as a spoken language…meant for the scientific organizing of things, not speaking, so don’t worry how you pronounce it.

      I have a pair of articles on the blog about botanical Latin that might be a good primer, if you can stay awake long enough. :)

      The one that includes the punctuation, so to speak:


      The one that tells what some of the second words (the specific epithets, or species names, mean…etc.):


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