White is such a wonderful color in the garden, blending with every other color, and lifting and brightening the colors of other flowers around them. Used as an accent, as part of a color scheme (such as white and blue), or planted in a ‘white flowers only’ bed, every garden is improved by the addition of white. When that is possible with an easy, long-blooming and drought-resistant bush, then you really have a winner.
The Miss Pearl Butterfly Bush is exactly that plant. It flowers continuously for months and months, needs almost no care, and carries beautiful pure-white cones of flowers that are hugely attractive to butterflies, and richly scented with the delicious smell of honey. Older butterfly bushes are often tall and ungainly, and some of the new ones are too small to make a real impact. Miss Pearl is exactly right, growing between 4 and 5 feet tall, and the same distance across. It stands out at a distance, make a substantial contribution to your garden beds, and yet it is not so tall as to take over in a smaller garden. It is so easy to grow that we could say, ‘why stop at one?’ Plant them in a row to make a great informal hedge for inside your garden, or along a fence, and it is also perfect for planter boxes, perhaps with other flowers planted beneath it.
The Miss Pearl Butterfly Bush naturally forms a rounded bush, with branches right to the ground, with multiple stems giving a natural density. The foliage is carried in pairs all along the stems, and each leaf is green on the top and silver-gray underneath, making an attractive contrast. The leaves are 4 inches long and 1½ inches wide, shaped like the narrow tip of a spear, with a slightly rough surface texture. The cone-shaped flower clusters appear in late spring at the ends of the branches, but as the plant develops over the seasons more flowers appear all down the stems, sprouting out from every leaf joint. Each flower cluster is almost 2 inches long and 1 inch across, containing about 200 individual flowers. Each cluster stays in bloom for 3 or 4 weeks, before fading – by which time new flowers have already appeared along the stem. There is no need to remove the flower clusters as they fade – that’s right, no deadheading needed – because this plant is sterile, produces no seed, and the flower clusters simply wither and fade away.
That lack of seeds is a big plus for the Miss Pearl Butterfly Bush, because older varieties of butterfly bush have become an invasive pest in some states, and Miss Pearl will not invade anywhere. That is why even the states of Oregon and Washington have approved the sale of this plant, as ‘summer lilac’, even though most other varieties of butterfly bush are banned there. So you can grow this plant in the full assurance that you are not harming your local natural environment at all.
Growing Miss Pearl Butterfly Bushes
Grow the Miss Pearl Butterfly Bush almost anywhere in your garden. In smaller gardens, plant a specimen at the back of your beds. In larger gardens plant in drifts or clusters, spacing plants 3 to 4 feet apart in each direction. Use the same spacing for a hedge or screen between parts of your garden, or to hide an old fence. A pair in containers looks great on your terrace or patio, and of course, the way it attracts butterflies is so appealing to children that one in a play area is a perfect choice.
Planting and Initial Care
Plant the Miss Pearl Butterfly Bush in a sunny place for maximum flowering, in any well-drained soil. Once established it is completely drought-resistant, growing and blooming happily even in sandy and dry soils. If you have a sunny, hot, dry corner in your garden, you have just met the perfect plant for it. This plant normally has no significant pests or diseases, and it is very easy to grow. Do not add a lot of organic material to the soil, and don’t use rich mulches. Especially in colder climates this may cause your plant to die over the winter, and so will wet locations. In spring wait for new growth to appear, and then remove any dead branches, and any thin, weak ones, leaving a framework of sturdy branches that you should shorten back to between 1 and 3 feet tall, depending on how tall you want you bush to grow. Cut back the stems to just above a pair of new shoots. Some liquid or granular fertilizer in spring will encourage maximum growth and blooming.
History and Origins of the Miss Pearl Butterfly Bushes
Butterfly Bush, Buddleja davidii, originated in China, where it grows in open, rocky areas Wild plants can grow 12 to 15 feet tall. It was brought to Europe in 1869 by the French missionary and naturalist Pere Armand David. Once there it was bred and many different varieties were created, using other Buddleja species, so that today’s plants are almost all hybrids. Once the invasive potential of this plant in parts of North America was detected, plant breeders began working to create non-seeding plants, to remove the danger. Dennis James Werner is a PhD professor of horticulture at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. He took two Buddleja varieties – ‘Miss Molly’ and ‘Ice Chip’ – and in the summer of 2009 he crossed them together. At his research nursery in Jackson Springs he grew the seedlings from this cross, and selected the most interesting plants. The beautiful plant he named ‘Miss Pearl’ was the very best one, selected in 2011. The plant was patented in 2017, with the benefit going to the University to support further research into producing new garden plants.