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Butterfly weed

Butterfly weed


Invasive plant species in our natural areas can wreak havoc for wildlife. These plants can confuse birds, causing them to nest to early and reduce nesting sites. The plants reduce insect and pollinator food and habitat, and drastically reduce native plant populations.

Invasive plants out compete native vegetation by leafing out earlier, shading germinating seeds, adapting to a multitude of growing conditions, or being prolific seeders.

The plants are usually from a different part of the world and introduced as ornamental landscape. Growers and gardeners alike may unknowingly plant these plants in their yards.

There are native plant alternatives that will give you the same impressive display:

Burning Bush (Euonymous alatus) forms dense thickets in the undergrowth and displaces native plants.

Instead, plant Blackhaw Viburnum (viburnum prunifolium), which grows taller. It has shiny to dull red fall color, attractive white blooms in April and colorful drupes. Caterpillars of Spring Azure butterfly will sometimes feed on the flowers and the buds.

Barberry (Berberis thunbergii) is rapidly spread by birds. It leafs out early in the spring, causing it to shade native plants.

Instead, plant Black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa), which blooms in late spring. It produces numerous black leathery fruits and glossy green leaves provide outstanding fall color while supporting bees and birds.

English Ivy (Hedera helix) aggressively climbs trees, eventually killing them. It covers the ground floor, choking out all that is in its path. It is an alternative host to bacterial leaf scorch, which affects a wide variety of trees.

Instead, plant Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia), which is a woody vine that turns scarlet red or burgundy in the fall, with blue violet berries.

Winter creeper (Euonymus fortunei) is a vigorous invader that accepts many growing conditions, which has made it a go-to ground cover.

Instead, plant Barren Strawberry (Waldstenia fragarioides), which is evergreen in mild winters. It produces yellow blooms in spring followed by small strawberry-looking, inedible achenes. It adapts to a wide range of soils.

Butterfly bush (Buddleja species) is a prolific invader of the Northeast and Pacific Northwest. It forms dense thickets that are hard to remove, and supplants other native plants as nectar sources, which reduces pollination.

Instead, plant butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa), which blooms in the summer on a 2-foot-tall plant. It is the larval source for monarch caterpillars; the nectar supports multiple species of bees, flies, wasps, beetles, and butterflies.

Kelly Allsup is the University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator in Livingston, McLean and Woodford counties.