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What's in a name?

Photos Courtesy of Tanya Kucak
It’s advisable to replace butterfly bush with ceanothus, above.

Sometimes a plant’s name is part of its appeal, but I can think of a few plants that need to be renamed.

“Butterfly bush,” for example, suggests that this might be a good choice if you want butterflies in your garden. In fact, it is one of the worst choices because it can be invasive and provides only nectar.

Butterflies look for specific host plants to lay their eggs in, because those are the plants that will feed the voracious caterpillars. Monarch butterfly caterpillars, for example, can eat only milkweeds (which entomologist Doug Tallamy suggests renaming “Monarch’s Delight”). Similarly, other butterflies need specific host plants, which are almost exclusively native plants.

Butterfly bush is not a host plant for any butterfly, so it does not provide the big, juicy caterpillars that nearly all birds rely on to raise their young. If it runs rampant in a park or yard, it will be displacing other plants that might have contributed to the local food web.

So let’s give butterfly bush a more accurate name: Invasive Birdstarving Weed.

I’ve long called English ivy Ratweed, because its main function in a landscape is to provide rat habitat, especially on walls and fences. Star jasmine, aka Ratvine, also provides great rat habitat, as well as being a nuisance to prune because of the sticky white latex. Both grow so densely that you might never see the nests of the endemic roof rats that live a few feet from your back door.

Can you guess Temperamental Poisonpod Strangler Vine’s other name? I can appreciate wisteria’s cascades of purple (or white) flowers, if not its unpleasant fragrance, but its bloom period is relatively short, and some years it refuses to bloom. An aggressively vining plant, it can twine around trees as well as normal arbors and pergolas, eventually taking them down. Like a cobra, it can squeeze whatever it engulfs, so it has to be watched closely if you have any electrical lines near it. Like ivy and creeping ficus (aka Stucco-Destroying Creeper), it can crack stucco and will try to force its tendrils through any opening – a window, the space between a deck and house or a crack in the wall. After flowering, wisteria drops a plethora of beanlike pods, which can be a nuisance to clean up and that are toxic to dogs (and people).

For several years, I lived in a house that had a bougainvillea planted next to the front porch. It was literally a pain to manage because of its rampant growth and big thorns. Let’s rename it Rampant Bloodletting Vine.

Oleander, aka Deadly Toxic Highway Shrub, is probably the most toxic plant commonly grown, and it’s com.mon along highways because it tolerates hot, dry conditions.

This is a random selection of plants still sold in nurseries. As a gardener concerned with the ecological impact of my choices, the most compelling reason to keep these plants out of my gardens is that they simply do not contribute to biodiversity. Choosing appropriate native plants instead can help re-establish the food webs that can restore the populations of birds and butterflies.

Tanya Kucak gardens organically. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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