Friday, August 10, 2007

The Butterfly Bush Buddleja davidii

I am an amateur naturalist trying to learn a little about all the life in my garden.

Growing in my garden (at (1.5,0.5) -see here) is a Butterfly Bush (Buddleja davidii). You can see the bush itself in photo 2 (click to enlarge) and a closeup of one of the beautiful flower 'spikes' (my description - the professionals appear to favour the catchy 'a paniculate cyme') in photo 1. The flowers smell as wonderful as they look.

You can find numerous buddleja cultivars in garden centres. The Royal Horticultural Society site has a picture of seventeen of them. As far as I'm aware mine is not an artificial cultivar (can anyone confirm this from the photo?). Paignton Zoo holds the UK's national collection.

The buddleja in my garden grows vigorously and I regularly need to prune it back. True to its common name, it is a magnet for butterflies and other insects - an example being the peacock butterflies I photographed recently feeding there.

Amongst the many pleasant consequences of my self imposed mission to blog my garden is the discovery of so many excellent web resources. In preparing for this posting for example, I came across the excellent UK Biological Records Centre, a database of 15million entries on 12,000 UK species. Amongst the resources, the centre offers a downloadable database providing information on all the alien species of plant and animal to have invaded the British Isles. From the database I learn that Buddleja davidii was first grown in the UK at the famous the Kew Gardens in 1896, and it was not until 1922 that the first wild 'escapee' was recorded (at Harlech in Wales - how seed travelled the several hundred miles from Kew to Harlech I can only imagine!). The latter date surprised me - if I'd been asked to guess, I think I'd have imagined buddleja to have been imported by some intrepid seventeenth century plant hunter. These days you'll see Buddleja davidii on almost any patch of rough, stony ground in the UK and I've been told that it was extremely common on bomb-sites at the end of the second world war; To have spread so widely since only the 1920's is a testament to its hardiness (mine has survived having being ripped out of the ground by the bulldozers of the builders who did some work on my house a few years ago for example!).

The species name daviddii refers to one Father Armand David, a French Catholic missionary and keen naturalist. The first Westerner to discover it, Father David found Buddleja davidii growing on gravel river beds in China in 1876 (or 1869, depending on which web site I look at - does anyone know which is correct?). Father Armand had a prodigious talent for discovering plants and animals: over a thousand new species (including the giant panda - none of those in my garden as far as I'm aware!).

The genus name Buddleja is a reference to the Reverend Adam Buddle (1662-1715) an Essex botanist whose collection of moss, grasses, seaweeds and lichens is today housed in London's Natural History Museum. Mark Lawley's site includes a biographical essay. The name Buddleja was coined by Linneaus in honour of the Rev. B - the Reverend himself never actually encountered the plant. 'Buddleja' is Linneaus's spelling, although it's common to see the alternative 'Buddleia'.

The Buddleja genus contains some 100 species, widely spread across the globe. Buddleja davidii is classed as a problem weed in the US.

And finally, a little microscopy? But of course! For no more reason than its intrinsic fascination value, some buddleja pollen (photo 3, 400x magnification, click to enlarge).


Gaye from the Hunter said...

hi Henry,

the effect on the environment of this species gone feral would make an interesting footnote to your blog entry. From your description: *These days you'll see Buddleja davidii on almost any patch of rough, stony ground in the UK*, it sounds like its rampant nature might be akin to Lantana camara which is a hybrid of a garden plant originating from tropical America that is now a weed of national significance in Australia.

Lantana smothers vegetation (in Australian bushland) up to several metres high and has infected many millions of hectares of bushland and forest in eastern Australia. Some varieties are also toxic to cattle. *Finally* its sale and propagation by nurseries for garden use has been banned in NSW.

Do you know of the environmental impact that the Butterfly bush is having on the English countryside?

I agree that researching for blog entries is a very rewarding venture.


Roger B. said...

You've done some fascinating research on this species. Judging by the photograph, I agree that your buddleja doesn't look like a cultivar.

I also read Gaye's comment. Buddleja is most abundant on disturbed urban sites, where it seems to compete very effectively with ruderal herbs. I have heard of it invading more "natural" plant communities, such as those found cliffs and scree. I may be wrong, but I think it causes problems in the Avon Gorge.

Mike said...

Since you left your comment about my grasshopper pics I have enjoyed looking through your blog bit by bit, and have just read your entry for the Robin. I was delighted to see you have quoted my favourite line from Lack - I have read it out loud to several of my long-suffering friends.
Keep up the good work!

PS My copy of Lack is a third edition (1953) which belonged to my late father and so has a lot of sentimental value for me.
I found it fascinating and very engagingly writtin.

The Black Rabbit said...

Thankyou Henry for your kind comments on "Blue-Grey" regarding Scarlet Tiger Moths...

Henry Walloon said...

Gaye and Roger - thanks for raising this interesting point. Certainly adult butterflies seem to value buddleja but tunring to my copy of The Wild Flower Key by Warne, I read that buddleja is "very invasive and, in effect, damages butterfly habitats by shading out caterpillar food plants" - so it does indeed seem to be an undesirable alien.

Mike - I was also charmed by 'The Life of the Robin'. There are a number of copies in my family also. Thanks for the words of encouragment.

Anonymous said...

Your research is interesting but your spelling is a bit off. The correct spelling of this plant is Buddleia davidii pronounced Bud-Lee-uh dav-id-e-i. Your plant may not be a cultivar but this may not necessarily be a good thing. Cultivars have been chosen as idea plants because their wild tendencies are bred out of them or at least restricted.

Angela Millet said...

"I am an amateur naturalist trying to learn a little asbout all the life in my garden." Thanks for sharing your garden to everyone. You have done a great research on this article. This give me an inspiration to blog my garden or the nature around me instead. This is a great discussion I have really learned a lot.


jop said...

"Lantana smothers vegetation (in Australian bushland) up to several metres high and has infected many millions of hectares of bushland and forest in eastern Australia." This seems very disturbing to note. I would like to commend the author of this blog who wanted to raise the people's awareness in environmental issues.

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