Blue butterfly plant is a long-time favorite
This fall and winter, I’ve been going back to look at some of my really, really favorite plants that I’ve talked about over the years as host of Southern Gardening with the Mississippi State University Extension Service.
I’ve enjoyed hearing reports from garden centers that a particular Southern Gardening column created a run on plants I mentioned. One in particular brings back some fun memories: the blue butterfly plant.
I first saw this plant at the early-spring garden shows one year in Biloxi and Jackson. I was so impressed with it and wondered why I hadn’t come across it before. The following week, I wrote about how gorgeous and cute the blue butterfly plant is.
Blue is my favorite color: car, shirts, socks and, yes, flowers. Blue butterfly plant does not disappoint in the color department.
I love how the multiple, individual flowers are arranged on long, arching branches. Each flower is about an inch in diameter and has several pale-blue lobes and a single, darker blue-violet lobe. The way the stamens and pistil point upward reminds you of the butterfly’s antennae.
A special treat is seeing how the stems gently sway, making it appear as if the little, blue “butterflies” have taken flight in the slightest breeze.
This is a versatile plant that is at home as a specimen focal point or as a member of a mixed flowering border. When planted in a location receiving full sun, which means at least 6 to 7 hours per day, blue butterfly plant will flower from planting in the spring to the first frost in the fall.
Known botanically as Clerodendrum ugandense, the blue butterfly plant is native to Kenya and Uganda -- hence the botanical reference -- in eastern Africa. It has the growth potential to reach up to 10 feet tall when there are no freezing winter temperatures.
This plant has an open and airy growth habit and flowers on the current season’s growth, but it can have a gangly appearance. Blue butterfly plant tolerates pruning at any time to keep it neat and tidy, and this promotes even more flowering from the new lateral branches.
It is very easy to propagate from stem cuttings. This is a perfect plant to share with your gardening neighbors.
One year, I accidently allowed a root from a container specimen to get out of the pot and into my back planting bed. Though blue butterfly plant is considered tropical, it tolerates cooler conditions and is root hardy down to about 20 degrees. So I left it, and it survived the coastal winter conditions until January 2018, when 14 of the first 21 days of the year were below freezing. That was too cold for too long.
For most gardens in Mississippi, this plant will return from its roots like many of our other perennial plants. For possibly the best year-round performance in north Mississippi, grow yours in a large container that can be protected during freezing weather.
Be sure to put blue butterfly plants on your garden list for 2023. Check with your local independent garden centers for availability or sourcing for you.