Do Hummingbirds Like Butterfly Bushes?

do-hummingbirds-like-butterfly-bushes

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Tiny jeweled hummingbirds are a wonderful sight, and having them come to your yard is a very special experience. Many gardeners wonder how they can make their yard more attractive to these colorful, beautiful little birds, and will plant many different species of flowers hoping to attract hummingbirds. But what species do hummingbirds like? For example, do hummingbirds like butterfly bushes?

Hummingbirds like butterfly bushes and are attracted to their colorful nectar-rich flowers. But although it’s very attractive to hummingbirds and other pollinators, butterfly bush, or buddleia, has become very invasive and is classified as a noxious weed in much of the United States and many other countries. This means there are restrictions on its sale and growth – so if you want to plant something in your garden to attract hummingbirds, you might want to go with native flowering shrubs instead of butterfly bushes.

Why do hummingbirds like butterfly bushes?

Hummingbirds depend on flowers for their survival. Because they move so fast they need a lot of fuel (up to 12,000 calories a day!) so as well as small insects, these fast little birds rely on a rich sugary liquid from plants, called nectar, to meet their high energy needs.

Hummingbirds seek out brightly-colored flowers to feed on using their long pointed beaks and tube-shaped tongues which let them reach nectar deep inside flowers that even some insects can’t reach! Because of this, their favorite flowers are usually trumpet-shaped as they’re the perfect shape for hummingbirds to drink from. 

Hummingbirds mostly use vision to select suitable plants and are often considered to be most attracted to red, orange, or purple flowers. But they will happily feed on plants outside their normal preferences too so long as they’re rich in nectar! So if you’re planting your garden to attract hummingbirds, it’s most important to focus on nectar and color, and just enjoy the lovely fragrance of blossoms for yourself.

What is a butterfly bush and what does it attract?

Butterfly bushes are part of a large group of shrubs native to Asia, Africa, and America grouped under the name Buddleia. The variety most commonly seen in gardens and growing wild in the United States is the beautiful Buddleia davidii, which along with its common name of “butterfly bush,” you may also see referred to as summer lilac or orange eye, or simply as buddleia. 

A common staple of southern gardens, the butterfly bush is a very attractive and easy to grow shrub with long flower spikes made up of many trumpet-shaped blossoms – the preferred shape for hummingbirds. These flowers have a honey-like scent and are usually purple, but may come in a variety of other shades from white through magenta and even yellow or maroon! Buddleia flowers have a high level of pollinator-attracting nectar and are particularly famous for attracting all sorts of butterflies, giving them their popular name “butterfly bushes”.

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Should I plant butterfly bushes to attract hummingbirds? 

As you can see from the above, butterfly bushes are perfectly suited to attract hummingbirds. Their spike-shaped clusters of trumpet-shaped flowers are ideal for hummingbirds to drink from and come in so many different vivid colors that there’s bound to be one suitable for your garden. There are even varieties that have blossoms of three different colors on the same plant or which change color along the length of the flower spike, so you can watch to find out which color the hummingbirds in your yard prefer! And of course, they will also attract a wonderful range of beautiful butterflies to join the hummingbirds in your garden.

Many people find butterfly bushes easy to grow, though if you’re in a mountainous or very cold region you might want to look at some of the alternatives listed below, as butterfly bushes tend not to thrive in these climates. However, butterfly bushes are very vigorous (if not controlled they may reach up to 15 feet in height!) and thrive in a variety of settings, particularly in open sunny sites and on disturbed soil. 

If you have a small yard with limited space, there are now many dwarf varieties to choose from that won’t grow above 4 or five feet – a lot more suited to urban gardeners who still want to attract hummingbirds with this pretty fragrant shrub. Alternatively, if you live more out in the countryside and find you have problems with deer invading your hummingbird garden, the butterfly bush is a naturally deer-resistant shrub. It’s also resistant to many plant diseases and needs little care – though be sure to keep deadheading it during the summer and autumn months so that it keeps producing more nectar-filled flowers to feed the hummingbirds!

It sounds like butterfly bushes are perfect for hummingbirds, right? But not so fast – there are reasons you might not want to plant buddleia for hummingbirds after all!

Why shouldn’t I plant butterfly bushes for hummingbirds?

Because butterfly bush grows so easily, reproduces so easily, and has so few predators outside of its natural habitat in central China, it has escaped from gardens and become established in the wild – and the insects and herbivores which keep it in check in its original home just don’t exist in the US and other places where it’s become established. 

This means that butterfly bush is crowding out the beautiful native flora our butterflies and birds rely on. While just like hummingbirds and butterflies love to feed on butterfly bush flowers, their caterpillars can’t eat the leaves and so they die, endangering some species. How easily it spreads can also make butterfly bushes a nuisance to gardeners who find themselves constantly having to uproot new seedlings in their yard!

Because of this many states have declared butterfly bushes to be a “noxious weed” and restricted their sale. In Oregon, for example, it is illegal to sell most varieties – so it’s important to check the law in your state before thinking about planting butterfly bushes to attract hummingbirds!

However, if you want to use this pretty shrub in your hummingbird garden, all is not lost. There are now sterile and low-fertility varieties available that are considered safer for planting, though again you will need to check the law in your particular area. And if you already have butterfly bushes in your yard, you’re sure to find hummingbirds attracted to their gorgeous flowers.

What can I grow for hummingbirds instead of butterfly bushes?

Luckily there are many plants you can choose for your hummingbird garden that are just as beautiful as butterfly bush! If you’re looking for shrubs that attract hummingbirds you could consider hibiscus, azalea, rose of sharon, or the lovely native hummingbird magnet Virginia sweetspire. 

Alternatively, you could look at a wider range of hummingbird-attracting plants, from herbs such as lavender to climbing vines like honeysuckle – and even succulents like aloe vera!  You can also put out hummingbird feeders to encourage even more of these brightly colored little visitors. 

The possibilities are endless, and in no time at all, you too will have a stunning garden full of happy hummingbirds.

About author
Rachel Verkade studied wildlife biology at McGill University, and now spends most of her time walking in the woods and watching the birds that come to her many backyard feeders. She also dabbles in wildlife photography (whenever things will hold still). She writes part time for Wild Yards about any and all types of wildlife that visit our back yards.

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