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Butterfly Bush Makes Great Cut Flowers
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
The buddleia has fragrant blossoms, attracts butterflies and excels as a cut flower. It is referred to as the butterfly bush in the United States, while in its native China they call it the Summer Lilac.
One commercial producer in Mississippi lists about 30 varieties of buddleia (buddleja) or butterfly bush for sale. This shrub became very popular at the turn of the century and is having widespread revival. While we refer to it as a shrub, you find it most often used at the back of the perennial border where the large arching canes can gracefully hang forward with their gorgeous blooms.
Most of the cultivars for sale are hybrids of buddleia davidii. This variety blooms on new growth and comes with the recommendation to cut back hard in late winter. It will send out vigorous new shoots and bloom all summer until the first frost.
Cutting back works well, but I have also seen specimens with large trunks that were allowed to reach over 7 feet in height. When you see these in bloom, you certainly cannot find fault with this method, either. To keep flowers producing, keep old blooms cut. Sungold (buddleia x weyeriana) is a popular yellow blooming variety.
Mississippi State University is beginning a trial of buddleias at three of the experiment stations for possible Mississippi Medallion honors. We can already glean some good data from Auburn University research examining buddleia for their cut flower superiority.
Researchers cut 15 stems of 10 varieties and placed them in a vase in a home environment. A typical floral preservative was used. Sungold, Lochinch, White Profusion, Royal Red and Pink Delight had the highest number of days of vase life. Black Knight, Empire Blue and Nanho Purple had the fewest days at 5 1/2. While that may not be suitable for the cut flower trade, it makes them worthwhile for our endeavors.
Charming Summer had the largest blooms, or panicles, reaching 7.9 inches in length, followed by Pink Delight at 6.9 inches, Royal Red at 6.1 inches, White Profusion at 6 inches and Nanho Blue at 5.4 inches. Empire Blue didn't score as well for the vase, but its color is extraordinary. It has deep violet blue blooms with orange eyes. It is funny how Mother Nature works with color schemes!
On a 3-year-old plant, it is possible to harvest 60 to 100 stems. Suggested harvesting time for maximum vase life is when half the flowers on the inflorescence are open but before the open flowers start to fade. Flowers should last from five to eight days if properly conditioned.
Buddleias are beautiful, undemanding plants that can be used as specimen or planted in mass. They are easily transplanted and survive most stresses, including people like me who have a propensity for moving plants at the wrong time of the year. Plant in well-drained soil. Once they are established, watch for the flight of the swallowtails.
The butterfly bush is also very easy to propagate by cuttings. In mid-summer take 4- to 6-inch cuttings, stripping off the lower set of leaves. Dab on a little rooting powder and you are off to the races. Buddleias and lantanas are ideal plants to not only give you color for the intense summer heat, but also offer a great start for a butterfly garden.