What is Buddleja?

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  • Written By: Alex Tree
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 14 October 2019
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Buddleja is a genus of semi-evergreen flowering plants formerly categorized under its own family of Buddlejaceae. The genus is now categorized as a member of Scrophulariaceae, also known as the figwort family. These plants were named after Adam Buddle, an English rector and botanist who discovered them. A common name for these evergreens is butterfly bush, primarily because of their natural ability to attract butterflies. The majority of Buddleja species can be found in Asia, the Americas, and South Africa.

Purple, orange, and yellow clustered flowers form a spike-like structure around the woody branches of these shrubs. Panicles of tubular blooms reach lengths of 4 to 20 inches (10 to 50 cm) and can either grow sparsely or compacted on the stems. The foliage of Buddleja plants are composed of small to medium oval-shaped leaves that turn purplish brown during winter and have light green or grayish undersides. Shrubs of this kind can grow more than 10 feet (3 m) in height.

The most popular garden-variety species of these flowering plants is Buddleja davidii, commonly referred to as summer lilac. This plant is native to the regions of northwestern China and Japan. A variant of summer lilac produces white blossoms that have a sweet vanilla scent, attracting hummingbirds and butterflies when in full bloom. Some butterfly gardeners in Japan commonly use davidii as an accent or foundation plant. This plant can be propagated by cutting and potting its roots during spring or summer.


Buddleja globosa, or orange ball, is also a popular type of figwort shrub. Bees are fond of this particular species. Yellow or orange clusters of flowers form a small sphere at the tip of its woody stalks, which measure around 1 to 2 inches (2.5 to 5 cm) in diameter. The leaves of this variety are elongated and have a velvety texture due to the fine hair-like follicles that cover both sides. Traditional healers in Chile and Peru crush or boil the leaves and infuse them with other ingredients to treat ailments such as ulcers, gastritis, and small wounds.

One particular species of butterfly bush possesses tree-like features rather than the usual bush or shrubby appearance. The false olive, or Buddleja saligna, grows on the cliffs and ravines of South Africa. Its branches are hard and coarse, and it has clusters of white flowers surrounded by dark green leaves that measure 3 to 6 inches (7.6 to 15 cm) long. A fully matured specimen can grow to be more than 30 feet (10 m) tall.


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