Don't tell me not to grow buddleja
June 25, 2008
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. (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?