Buddleia alternifolia

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This non-invasive species features cascading racemes of lilac-blue flowers that are pollinator magnets.

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December 7, 2020

Buddleia alternifolia’s graceful, pendant racemes in full bloom.
All photos by Mark Leichty

There are few plants in my garden that deserve as many accolades as my Buddleia alternifolia. I know the genus Buddleia has, to quote the Eagles, “A nasty reputation as a cruel dude,” but think of B. alternifolia as a kinder, gentler cousin. I have been growing Buddleia alternifolia for many years and have never seen it become invasive, which is the chief complaint of its “Cousin David” (davidii). The graceful, arching habit of is branches have led to its common name, fountain butterfly bush. It is also commonly called alternate-leaved butterfly bush, as its scientific name implies, because it has an alternate leaf pattern as opposed to the opposite leaves of other Buddleia species. It puts on a breathtaking show from late May until early July when its pendulous branches are covered with lightly scented lilac-blue flowers that are a valuable source of nectar for butterflies and other pollinators. Unlike other Buddleia species, B. alternifolia blooms on old wood, and thus hard pruning of the plant will mean few or no flowers the following year. It can be trained into a single-trunked small tree or grown as a multi-stemmed shrub.

Buddleia alternifolia is a deciduous shrub native to Gansu Province in north-central China where it grows along riverbanks at surprisingly high elevations between 4,500 and 13,000 feet. In cultivation it grows well in full sun to partial shade in a variety of soils from sandy loam to clay. B. alternifolia needs moderate summer water but will not tolerate wet feet in the winter. It is easily propagated from softwood or semi-hardwood cuttings. Mature plants reach 10-12 feet tall and wide. It makes a bold statement in the landscape. B. alternifolia received the prestigious Award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society in 1993. It is more common in gardens in the U.K than in North America. I seldom see specimens in gardens in the Pacific Northwest, which is a shame. It’s hardy in USDA Zones 5-9, so it would do well in most regions of the United States. This is definitely a plant that deserves greater attention in commercial horticulture and landscape design.

Mark Leichty is the Director of Business Development at Little Prince of Oregon Nursery near Portland. He is a certified plant geek who enjoys visiting beautiful gardens and garden centers searching for rare and unique plants to satisfy his plant lust. mark@littleprinceoforegon.com