January 15, 2024
ISLAMABAD – Honey bees and butterflies have their own preferences when it comes to selecting flowers for nectar collection. One of the most commonly visited flowers by butterflies is the summer lilac. This is one of the core reasons that it is also known as the butterfly bush. The flower secretes copious amounts of nectar, which has a fragrance that very closely resembles that of honey.
Contrary to what its name suggests, the flower is commonly available in different shades of maroon, pink, white and red in Pakistan. The group of small flowers forms a tight cluster that looks like a hanging corn cob or a cone, with many small tubular flowers contributing to its shape. Regardless of the colour of the flower, the centre is always dark yellow or orange in colour, which is why the flower is also called orange-eye.
Scientifically known as buddleja davidii, this plant belongs to the scrophulariaceae family and should not be confused with common lilacs due to the similar names and some overlapping features between the two. The butterfly bush is, to an extent, an ornamental plant that is now being used in Pakistan to decorate home gardens too. Traditionally, the butterfly bush used to be grown in different provinces of China.
The plant grows very quickly and has a relatively early flowering phase. It should be exposed to six hours of sunlight as it thrives well in direct sunlight. The butterfly bush is a larger-sized shrub that may grow to the height of eight to 12 feet.
While summer lilacs are beautiful to look and attract a host of butterflies, they can grow in a wild manner if not managed properly
It is a very easy to grow and a light maintenance plant, but its growth should be closely monitored. The plant needs to be pruned and larger branches must be removed, especially during the fall months. It grows so quickly that many gardeners equate it with being an invasive plant and some even see it as a weed that may hamper the growth of other plants, if grown in open spaces.
Two contrasting stages of the flower’s lifecycle
Therefore, it should be grown in a large-sized container or pot, thereby limiting its unwanted spread. Such is the fear of its uncontrolled growth that, in some regions, alternative flowering plant options are regularly suggested to farmers and growers to attract the much-anticipated pollinators.
The visiting butterflies also become the vector of the plant’s pollination as well. It is believed that a single cluster of flowers can account for 40,000 seeds! Therefore, many gardeners suggest removing the flowers from the plant after a week to 10 days of blossoming. Other parts of the plants are not visually attractive, but the sight of the plant stem arching towards the ground with these colourful cones of flowers hanging around the plant is beautiful to look at. Ironically, the butterflies also feel the same way. They love visiting the flowers regularly but do not stay on the butterfly bush itself, instead completing their lifecycle on any other nearby plant.
The summer lilac was traditionally used in Chinese medicine too. The flowers were used in the treatment and relief of different eye conditions, as an antibiotic and as a diuretic to get rid of excess water from the body.
Many local nurseries and plant sellers are actively selling the small to mid-sized, potted buddleja davidii plants in the price range of a few hundred to around 2,000 rupees here in Pakistan. All one needs is some well-drained soil and, of course, a large container. If there is one flower that you want to try out this year as a challenge, then I would suggest growing the buddleja davidii. You’ll see some beautifully coloured butterflies swarm in to complete the eco-system of your garden. But beware, do it only if you can manage the plant’s uncontrollable growth.