Are butterfly bushes bad for butterflies?

Butterfly bushes have become a bit controversial lately, and maybe you've heard or read something saying that you shouldn't plant butterfly bushes, or that they're bad for butterflies. Of course, if you've grown butterfly bushes before, you know that they attract tons of them, so how can this be?

What this argument is trying to get at is that just as people can't live by "bread alone," butterflies cannot live by butterfly bushes alone. These plants only satisfy their need for nectar, and do not provide a vital food source for butterfly larvae (caterpillars), so they don't sustain butterflies through their entire life cycle. In short, planting butterfly bushes should be just one part of your strategy for making your yard and garden more hospitable to butterflies. As you think about which shrubs and perennials you want to plant, be sure that your list includes plants that:

  1. Bloom at various times through the season, from early/mid spring for the butterflies that are just waking up or returning from migration through early/mid autumn, when butterflies are collecting nectar before egg-laying, dormancy, or migration.
  2. Support larval feeding. You can't have butterflies without having caterpillars first, so for a garden that is truly beneficial, you must plant shrubs and perennials that the caterpillars can eat. Caterpillars may require very specific host plants, like monarch, which famously only eat milkweed, or they can be more generalist feeders, munching on a variety of different plants. We try to include which species our larval plant selection hosts to help you achieve a good diversity. 
  3. Are native to your area. Butterfly bushes are known as "exotic plants" - they do not grow naturally in North America. However, the butterflies that visit our gardens are native to North America and in many cases, they and their larvae prefer to feed on plants that are also native. 

Though is our name, and we do love them, we know that they are just one tiny part of making the world a better place for butterflies and pollinators. That's why we offer a wide selection of other shrubsperennials, and annuals, including native species.