Plant Profile: Buddleja speciosissima

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I am a sucker for a rare or unusual plant. Give me a packed table at a plant fair and I will spot the rare treasure from a mile off. The plant may not be pretty, cheap, or suitable for my garden, but I shall probably buy it; not simply because I can, but because it interests me. I am fascinated by plants, how they grow and how they look. I want to broaden my knowledge and learn by doing rather than from reading text books. A new plant may flourish or it may die, and though I don’t enjoy killing plants, I’d rather have a go than not try at all. Even if death is the result of my careful ministrations, I will have learned something; usually sufficient to know whether I should try again. Plants are like friends – some will come and go, making space in your life for new ones. The ones that really like you will stick around for the long haul.

And so we come to today’s subject, Buddleja speciosissima, a shrub that hails from the mountains of southern Brazil. I am sure we can all agree that these conditions are probably quite different from those in east Kent. However Nicholas Lock, specialist grower of rare and hard-to-find trees and shrubs, assures me that it has been cultivated succcessfully in gardens in northern France, so I decide to give it a go. I picked up my plant, perhaps 14″ tall, at the Cornwall Spring Flower Show (see above, the plant second in from the left). It was one of only two on a stand spilling over with seriously choice plants. My buddleja has already been repotted twice and now stands 4′ tall and counting. At the base of the main stem there are lots of healthy side-shoots forming. My plant is rudely healthy and I’m excited to see if I will enjoy flowers this year. So far, so good.

The foliage of Buddleja speciosissima is unmistakably that of a Buddleja – elongated, slightly floppy and a mid-green shade. The big difference with this species is that both the underside of the leaves and the subquadrangular stems are covered in a thick white coating (correctly described as indumentum), as if someone has taken a can of spray snow to the plant. I believe this attractive woolliness diminishes as the plant matures. In summer the main event is the appearance of flower spikes – also woolly – which grow up to 20cm in length. They carry tubular, orangey-red flowers, each 2-3cm long. In their natural habitat they are pollinated by hummingbirds. Not so many of those in Broadstairs so we shall see if they attract butterflies instead.

At home in Brazil, Buddleja speciosissima colonises dry, rocky grassland at high altitudes, suggesting it will grow well here in poor soils with good drainage. Being new to the UK, the plant’s hardiness has yet to be established, although Arven Nurseries in France suggest it will cope with short spells as cold as -8ºC. I intend to protect mine over winter to be on the safe side. As for its place in the garden, Buddleja speciosissima would obviously look terrific in any exotic planting scheme, or in a dry, sunny situation such as a gravel garden. Eventually reaching 3m in height, Buddleja speciosissima is possibly a little too large for a conservatory or greenhouse and I’m not yet sure if it will take the kind of coppicing that keeps other buddleja in check.

I can find only two sources of Buddleja speciosissima in the UK. The first is Nicholas Lock, from whom you can buy at a number of specialist plant fairs throughout the year. Call in advance to check there are plants ready for sale. The second is Pan Global Plants, who offer mail order, subject to availability. Visit the website for details. In France, Arven Nurseries also offer Buddleja specisiossima, although they are out of stock at the time of writing. I hope the nurseries mentioned will forgive my use of their images until such a time that my own plant flowers. Early results would suggest this a shrub well worth seeking out, especially if you garden in the warmer south or drier east. TFG.

Categories: Flowers, Foliage, Plant Portraits, Plants, Trees and Shrubs

Posted by The Frustrated Gardener

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31 comments On "Plant Profile: Buddleja speciosissima"

  1. Dan, it’s a very good quality to be curious and interested in new and rare plants. I like your comparison : “Plants are like friends – some will come and go, making space in your life for new ones. The ones that really like you will stick around for the long haul.” That’s so true. I wish I could grow that Buddleja specisiossima in my garden too, but the cold and frosty winters in Poland don’t allow it… Enjoy your beautiful new plant – happy growing and flowering soon 🙂

  2. What a cool plant! I love the color of the leaves and the shape of the flowers. I imagine it might like growing here in Houston. I like the comparison to plants and friends. I do better with plants actually. But plants also come and go…lost some dear ones in our 2 days of 18 degrees F even though I wrapped them up. We are not suppose to get that cold in zone 9a. I now have new plants and the old ones are composting. Cheers!

  3. Ooh! I love plants I’ve never seen before. I think that is the genus(?) Of the common butterfly bush we grow across the pond.

    If think just the color alone would start butterflies.
    Miss ya.

  4. Thanks for this – sounds like just the sort of specimen that might like the Isle of Wight.
    Have you ever seen Buddleia colvilei ‘kewensis’? Nick Pierce at White Cottage Daylilies has one on the IOW and it also has felty/silvery leaves, but bright pink (instead of orange) similar flowers. It’s another stunner, but possibly even harder to find!

  5. The common varieties were a fad here a few years ago, and are still getting in my way. They can get big, but gardeners do not maintain them properly. Without getting cut back for rejuvenation, they eventually rot and die, but might sneakily come back from the roots. Yours is VERY different. Will you be making copies to keep it going when the original gets old, or do you suspect that the original will last a long time?

    1. When I have enough side shoots I will attempt to take a cutting or two. I am not sure I’ll get seeds unless I can train my sparrows to behave like hummingbirds!!! Their stumpy beaks might be an obstacle. On the whole I don’t think buddleja are long-lived plants.

      My neighbour has a hideous buddleja that she gets someone in every year to hack about at an inappropriate time. It looks ugly and tortured, but reaches the eaves!

      1. I relocated one at work. I do not like them normally, but this one was worth salvaging, and is doing well in the new spot. A baby is developing where we moved it from, and it looks good too. It will probably get moved closer to the original this autumn.

  6. What a fabulous plant ! The tubular formation of the petals remind me of Leonotis – which I generally grow from seed each year – and I omitted to grow this year.. always next year though. Sally

  7. Hi- Looks to be a beauty! If you can grow it in Broadstairs It will be worth a try in Minster.I have a gravel garden which should suit it well.I will do my best to obtain one and will let you know how I get on.Happy gardening.Best Wishes. Robin'[Haven’ in Minster]

    1. I think Nicholas is your best bet, although it’s not so easy to get the plants from him unfortunately. If I can root cuttings, I will make sure I save one for you. If it can survive Broadstairs, Minster is a good bet. Dan

  8. Wow, that is gorgeous. I missed you by a day at the Cornwall Show I think. I know this because it wasn’t raining in your photo. We were in one of the cars hauled out of the field by tractor! I shall look out for that buddleja next time I come across Nicholas.
    Me. Hankering after a buddleja. Crikey. It must be my age..

    1. It was glorious the day we went (Sunday) but there were still cars being pulled out of the mud.

      I think it’s perfectly acceptable to hanker after a buddleja. Better value than almost anything else you could buy for the same money. In fact most plants are!

  9. Hey Dan I really enjoyed your post, I’ve been trying to get a hold of one of these for quite some time. Any chance you have any seed/seedlings/cuttings you would be willing to ship to California? I would be extremely grateful. Name your price!

  10. Hello. I would like to ask you about the cultivation of Buddleja speciosissima. I bought my plant last autumn and it spent the winter in a pot outdoors without any problems. I am in Italy zone usd 8a.
    I planted the plant in full sun on poor, sandy soil.
    In spring the plant put on few leaves and stopped
    The summer here is very hot and dry but I watered the Buddleja regularly. Despite this, the few leaves have closed, the plant is suffering and if I don’t intervene immediately it will die. It probably does not tolerate excessive heat. I would appreciate your opinion as there is no information on the internet.
    Thank you

    1. Hi Gianni. I think you have probably answered your own question here. Buddleja speciosissima comes from high altitudes in Brazil and therefore my assumption is that it’s happiest in cool but bright conditions. The sun and heat may be causing the plant stress and / or causing it to become dormant. One idea – do you have any shade cloth you could put over the plant until the temperatures drop? Or mulch that you could put around the base? I do think it’s a slightly scrubby looking plant so partly it could be its natural habit that you’re seeing. Dan

      1. Thank you Dan for your helpful reply. Unfortunately I had no information on the cultivation of this Buddleja. I am going to transplant it into a pot today and put it in the shade. Unfortunately I will never be able to grow it in the ground because the summer temperatures here are too high.

    1. Good, thank you Ann. It’s a little leggy now, so I am going to cut it back to strong shoots lower down in spring. It’s flowered every year without fail and does not seem to mind cold weather or strong winds. Dan

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