Monday 17 August 2015

Why so few butterflies on a White Buddleia?

I have been pondering this question for the last few days and weeks, ever since our most recent visit to RSPB Minsmere, when there were masses of butterflies (particularly Red Admiral and Peacock) on the Buddleia bushes by the entrance to the reserve. These bushes, as I recall, were all purple in colour.

Peacock butterfly, Buddleia, RSPB Minsmere

Red Admiral, Buddleia, RSPB MInsmere

Painted Lady, Buddleia, RSPB Minsmere

I am now beginning to reach an answer, although it may be more of a hunch than a scientific fact. If you know about these things, I should be delighted to learn more.

We inherited a large, white (and to date unidentified) Buddleia in our garden. The bush is healthy and full of blooms. The flower heads look beautiful for a day or so, but soon turn to a less attractive 'rust' as the flowers die. I have just started to dead-head the ones within reach.

Friday proved to be a red-letter day for the bush: a single Red Admiral landed on it and spent some minutes nectaring. I grabbed my camera to record this fairly unusual event ...

Red Admiral, home patch, 14 August 2105

Red Admiral, home patch, 14 August 2105

Red Admiral, home patch, 14 August 2105

Red Admiral, home patch, 14 August 2105

So why is this bush usually so neglected? There is even a dedicated nettle patch underneath it in the hope that butterflies might lay their eggs in this part of our garden. And are all white Buddleia bushes less attractive to butterflies?

I understand from Andrew Bullock in an article in the Daily Telegraph by Mary Keen that 'davidii forms ... are much more attractive to butterflies.' In my ignorance I had assumed that all Buddleia bushes in British gardens were davidii, but this is clearly not the case.

Monty Don, writing in the Daily Mail (, says that a considerable number of davidii hybrids do not have as much nectar as the species varieties, adding, however, that this is not the case for some of the white hybrids.

So my tentative conclusions to date are as follows:
  • the white Buddleia in our garden probably fails to offer much nectar.
  • it is probably not one of the davidii.
  • it is possible to buy varieties of white buddleia that are attractive to butterflies. Perhaps we should consider adding in one of these.
  • Given that the single Red Admiral alighted on the bush yesterday, I shall continue to keep it under close surveillance to see if other insects follow suit in the next few days. Perhaps the nectar levels are still peaking. 
I should be interested to learn whether any of you have a white variety in your garden that acts as a magnet for butterflies!

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A previous post ... my words on the RSPB Minsmere leaflet


eileeninmd said...

Hello Caroline, I have not seen the white buddleia around here. I only have the purple colors.
The white blooms do look pretty, it is just a shame it is not attracting the butterflies. Great post and lovely photos. Enjoy your new week!

Angie said...

I personally don't have a white buddleia Caroline but know a neighbour who does and a conversation with another neighbour only the other day tells me that she too is disappointed that she gets very few butterflies visiting it. I suggested that perhaps it was time to either give it a hard prune (it's huge and been there a long time) or replace it with an alternative. I must make a point of seeing her to share what you've said here. She may or may not know which cultivar she has.
Up until today I saw no butterflies but the sun has brought out some whites but nothing else. I removed my own Buddleia davidii (purple flowers) in favour of Buddleia globosa last year. It was certainly loved by the bees when it bloomed but there was no butterflies around to compare. Hopefully next year.
Apologies for rambling on too much. Have a nice week.

Anonymous said...

Your single Red Admiral took my breath away, Caroline!

Kay Weeks said...

I said, once, before needing an identity:

Your single Red Admiral on the White Buddleia, is breathtaking.



Crafty Green Poet said...

that's really interesting, Caroline! I rarely see white buddleia, and in Scotland we just don't get as many butterflies in general.....

Simon Douglas Thompson said...

Not seeing many butterflies on buddleias full stop here. Peacocks and red admirals are thin on the ground.

I wonder if butterfly vision may also have something to do with any apparent ignorance of white buddleia.

Anonymous said...

I actually think that butterflies prefer the colour purple to others, maybe because they see using ultra violet light. We get very few butterflies in my Aberdeen garden as it is not often sunny, but when they do visit their favourite plant is usually the purple Erysimum, not the yellow or orange ones. They are also known to like purple Buddleia as well as purple Verbena. This is not based on anything very scientific I'm afraid, just observations of a few butterflies.

Ragged Robin said...

Very interesting post. We too have a White Buddleia which also rarely gets butterfly visits!! Usually the purple ones get lots of visits from butterflies. Although have to say this year all the buddleias are devoid of flutters except for a few Whites. Not sure what has happened to Peacocks, Red Admirals and Small Tortoiseshell this year locally :(

We have ice plants (sedums) in our garden which rarely get butterfly visits and I have often wondered why as they are supposed to attract them and certainly National Trust Gardens have butterflies all over their sedums. But I was reading an article recently in Amateur Gardening about this plant and apparently some of the native and old-fashioned varieties such as Sedum spectabile attract far more butterflies (they have more nectar) than Sedum Autumn Joy. I now suspect the Sedum we have is the latter!! :(