Do we really need another butterfly bush?

Every so often (and particularly now that I’m working in this industry), I like to check the websites of the major plant breeders/nurseries like Monrovia and Proven Winners, to see what new plants are on the way for the next year. And to be sure, there are some really neat new plants in development, such as Lemony Lace™ Elderberry and Soft Caress™ Mahonia. A lot of new plant introductions usually are an improvement upon older varieties, but, if we’re honest, there are also a lot of “new” plant varieties that (for example) are only different in that they have blooms that are a slightly darker or lighter shade of purple than others; it sometimes seems to be less about improving the plant’s characteristics than about making an extra few dollars by simply adding to the number of varities for sale. A prime example of this, in my view, is Butterfly bush (Buddleia spp.). I counted at least 15 varities just from Proven Winners. And with the exception of the Blue Chip™ series (dwarf types that are sterile and won’t sprout up everywhere), most of these Buddleia differ only in flower color and size, and even then, not by much. And yet breeders continue cranking out more and more of these particular shrubs year after year. It’s the same story with Barberry (Berberis thunbergii). There are multiple cultivars of both the purple and gold types, with 23 cultivars offered by Monrovia, again, many of which only differ ever so slightly.

Part of my beef with creating so many cultivars of Barberry and Butterfly bush is that they (with the exception of the Blue Chip series) have a history of being invasive and popping up in the wild from wind-blown seeds. And because neither species is native to the United States, their invasive nature means they tend to out-compete and suppress native plants that wildlife depend on for food and shelter. We should be promoting our native species, which provide far more benefit to wildlife, are much more well behaved, and require much less care and maintenance than exotic “foreigners.” There are some terrific native plants that I almost never see in nurseries and garden centers, such as Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis), Cyrilla racemiflora, Carolina buckthorn (Frangula caroliniana), Spicebush (Lindera benzoin), Alabama Snow-Wreath (Neviusia alabamensis), and Sparkleberry (Vaccinium arboreum), just to name a few. Of course, nursuries and garden centers will only sell what customers are asking for, so I’d encourage folks to find out what’s native in your area (a plant native to the southeast may not be native to the mid-west or northeast) by checking with your state native plant society or using and if you see a native plant you like, ask your local garden center or nursery to carry it.

As they say, “diversity is the spice of life!” The big growers and breeders ought to “branch” out a little! (Sorry, couldn’t resist!)

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