Border phlox in new styles
Looking at wild geraniums

Don't tell me not to grow buddleja

BuddlejaL&BBlueChipSMN The good people at Proven Winners and Spring Meadow Nursery recently sent me a new buddleja (butterfly bush) to try in the garden. Lo & Behold Blue Chip is very dwarf, 2-3ft, and certainly looks promising. The fact that no buddleja I’ve tried here in zone 5b has ever survived the winter doesn’t discourage me – this is a complex inter-specific hybrid so may just prove hardier. It’s also unusually dwarf which, frankly, excites me rather less. I always think buddlejas are at their best at 6-8ft tall and arching over the border – but I’m open to persuasion. Mainly, I just want one that’s hardy here..

But buddlejas are controversial. Last year the National Zoo (part of the Smithsonian Institute in Washington) chose Buddleja as a Plant of the Month, for its enormous value in attracting butterflies and other beneficial insects. After protests from the invasive plant lobby, it changed its mind saying: "We do recognize that Buddleia, while it attracts butterflies, is an invasive exotic that we should not be promoting. We have removed that article, replacing Buddleia with the native flowering dogwood."

“Invasive exotic”? Not here it’s not. Here in zone 5b we can’t get buddlejas through the winter yet the National Zoo daren’t even suggest we should try. It quakes after receiving a few complaining emails and changes its mind.

Here’s the thing. The USDA cites B. davidii as growing in just fifteen states across the country… The National Parks Service reports it as invasive in eight states. But just because a state reports it as invasive doesn't mean that every appropriate habitat is engulfed. It could mean that one person reported the plant as invasive at one site in the state - once. The National Parks Service reports buddleja as invasive in Pennsylvania but in our part of the state it’s not even hardy, let alone invasive.

In Oregon, while the Oregon Nursery Association was in constructive discussions with the state Department of Agriculture about buddleja whether nurseries should be selling it, and as they were close to an agreement that satisfied everyone’s concerns, the state legislature jumped up and banned all sales and production of B. davidii and all of its cultivars, regardless of whether the cultivar is invasive, non-invasive or even sterile. The law takes effect in six months. So much for negotiation. BuddleiaBlue-ChipContainer(3)SMN (That new Lo & Behold Blue Chip, by the way, is almost completely sterile – but presumably as it’s not a cultivar of B. davidii it’s not covered by the ban.)

Japanese knotweed is a menace over much of the country, no one disputes that. Buddleja is not – and never will be – as much of a problem. But I resent the notion that I shouldn’t grow it, even as a temp-perennial for summer containers. And banning it in the middle of negotiations just fires up further resentment. So can we just develop a sense of proportion here? And educate the American people instead of banging them on the head with a hammer?

Comments

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Mike Grant

This controversy is a foretaste of what might happen in the UK regarding the invasive Rhododendron ponticum, and other species that might be legislated against.
R. ponticum is invasive, and destructive of certain habitiats. So you could ban it from sale or ban people from causing it to be naturalised. But it ain't that simple: molecular biologists have found that much naturalised R. ponticum is a hybrid, with small amounts of R. maximum and R. catawbiense in its genome, left over from early garden hybrids (a hairy rather than glabrous ovary is a sign of this cryptic hybridity). So, do authorities ban R. ponticum and its hybrids? If so, that includes many of the so-called hardy hybrids widespread in the trade, and still the mainstay of much rhodo commerce. Or do they ban pure R. ponticum, which doesn't really address the problem? Also, the species, or perhaps its cryptic hybrids, is still used as a rootstock, although not so much in the UK any more.
I believe that Defra (the gov't dept) and the Scottish equivalent will pronounce later this year.

Graham Rice

You're right, Mike, whatever else it is - it's not simple. The problem is that too many people (in the US in particular) want to rip out anything they find growing in the wild that's not native. There are even cases of plants which are native in one area being cleared when they’ve spread by natural means into a neighbouring region. But I have to say that I have no answer to the issue of hybrids that you raise – it will be interesting to see if anyone else has.

But one aspect of this is rarely mentioned: in evolutionary terms, an eruption of buddlejas or Rhododendron ponticum over recent decades may prove entirely insignificant. Or the appearance of other species in new areas may be little more than a response to climate change. There is already anecdotal evidence that Japanese knotweed is actually declining in some areas.

We need to reduce the hysteria, increase research and (in the US) mapping, eschew prejudice – and keep in mind that the distribution of plants changes… plants move, and with our climate changing, they need to.

Al Krismer

Graham,

I bought a Blue Chio buddliea on a trip to park seed Co. in Greenwood. My brother and I plan to visit Spring Meadow later this summer. As for invasive plants the sterile "Mordon series" of lythrum have been banned in some parts of the country Though I never had problems with a clump of them spreading. Its just another example of bureaucratic nonsense.

Al Krismer
Cincinnati

Graham Rice

I've never tried 'Morden Gleam' or 'Morden Pink' lythrums. But over on Dave's Garden (http://davesgarden.com/guides/pf/go/54886/) a poster says: "...research has shown that sterility occurs only when no wild species are growing in the vicinity. According to Armitage, when 'Morden Pink' or 'Morden Gleam' was planted near wild Lythrum salicaria the resulting seed was over 80% viable."

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