Buddleja nivea

Common Name: butterfly bush 
Type: Deciduous shrub
Family: Scrophulariaceae
Native Range: Western China
Zone: 7 to 9
Height: 6.00 to 10.00 feet
Spread: 4.00 to 8.00 feet
Bloom Time: July to September
Bloom Description: Pale lilac
Sun: Full sun
Water: Medium
Maintenance: Medium
Suggested Use: Naturalize
Flower: Showy, Fragrant
Attracts: Hummingbirds, Butterflies
Tolerate: Rabbit


Easily grown in average, medium moisture, well-drained soils in full sun. Becomes weedy and sparse with diminished flowering performance if not grown in full sun. Performs best in sharply-drained sandy/gravely soils. Does poorly in wet conditions. This shrub will naturalize, sometimes aggressively, by self-seeding (seed dispersed by wind), particularly in areas where it does not die back in winter. Pinch the branch tips to encourage new white foliage growth. Flowers are ornamentally average to mediocre, and some gardeners prune off the flower spikes prior to bloom and also prune off stem tips monthly for purposes of producing the maximum display of white foliage. Deadheading flower spikes either before or after bloom will discourage self-seeding which can be a problem in some areas. In USDA Zones 5 and 6, this plant will often die to the ground in winter and therefore is often grown therein in the manner of an herbaceous perennial. Even if plants do not die to the ground in winter, they often grow more vigorously, produce superior flowers and maintain better shape if cut close to the ground in late winter each year. This plant is usually deciduous in Zone 7. Plants are often evergreen in Zones 8 and 9.

Noteworthy Characteristics

Buddleja nivea, commonly called woolly butterfly bush, is an upright deciduous shrub that is primarily grown in gardens for showcasing its new leaves and stems, both of which are densely covered with an attractive white-woolly indumentum (snow-like fuzz), rather than for display of its somewhat mediocre flowers. This buddleja is native to open woodlands, forest margins, and mountain thickets in southern China. It typically grows to 6-10’ tall and to 8’ wide unless killed back by cold winter temperatures or trimmed close to the ground.

Ovate-lanceolate, coarsely toothed leaves to 3-9” long taper to long points. Leaves, particularly new growth, are covered with white woolly hairs. Spike-like terminal and axillary flower clusters bloom from early to late summer, sometimes to first frost. Pale lilac blue to violet blue flowers (each to 1/4” long) are densely clustered in thin panicles (to 6” long). Unfortunately, the white indumentum which also covers the flower panicles often hides the flower color from view. Flowers are mildly fragrant, and, as the common name suggests, attractive to butterflies. Flowers are also attractive to hummingbirds and bees, but perhaps not as much as is the case with some other species of Buddleja such as B. davidii and its many cultivars.

Genus name honors the Reverend Adam Buddle (1660-1715), English botanist and vicar of Farmbridge in Essex.

The genus name is frequently listed today as Buddleia. However, Linnaeus named the genus Buddleja (pronounced with a silent “j”) which is still considered to be the proper spelling (first name survives) according to the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature.

Specific epithet comes from the Latin word niveus meaning snowy or snow white in reference to the white fuzzy indumentum covering new leaves and stems like a covering of snow.

Common name refers to its attraction to butterflies.


No serious insect or disease problems. Caterpillars, mullein moth, weevils and spider mites may appear. Watch for fungal leaf spots. Dieback will occur in winter for plants grown north of USDA Zone 8.


His species is not commonly sold in commerce. Best grown in borders, cottage gardens, rose gardens or butterfly gardens. Foundations.