Blue Butterfly Bush
(Rotheca myricoides 'Ugandense')

Not to be confused with the familiar blue butterfly pea (Clitorea ternatea), this ornamental form of the blue butterfly bush (Rotheca myricoides ‘Ugandense’) is a woody evergreen shrub that can reach over 3 meters in height. Native to tropical eastern Africa, mainly Kenya and Uganda, this mint relative has glossy bright green leaves that emit an offensive, distinctly non-minty aroma when rubbed or crushed.

Side view of the blue butterfly bush showing leaf pairs at opposite, 90° angles from each other: a key characteristic of mint family members.

The flowers of this shrub are its star attraction and namesake, with their compound inflorescences bearing flowers that almost perfectly resemble a butterfly in flight. With four, white, wing-like side petals and a fifth blue-purple lower petal representing the head, thorax, and abdomen, the bi-lobed stigma of the flower even replicates the split mouthpart halves of a newly hatched butterfly before it is completely zipped up into a single tubular proboscis. Perhaps the only non-butterfly-like feature are the four long, showy, purple-anthered stamens: a special feature of cultivar ‘Ugandense’: real butterflies only have a single pair of antennae. Both bees and butterflies are attracted to these nectar-producing flowers, so watch the plant and chances are you’ll catch some real butterflies in action too! 

At first glance, you might easily mistake this blue butterfly bush flower for a real butterfly!

Find the blue butterfly bush at Sensory Trail – a fun, new, hands-on exploratory trail connecting the Garden’s Bayfront MRT and Active Garden! You’ll also find many exciting and odd plants there to tickle your senses of sight, smell, touch, hearing, and taste, though please don’t taste any of the plants in our Gardens unless you’re a butterfly! Many of the plants on this trail including blue butterfly bush, rattleweed (Crotalaria retusa), and peacock flower (Caesalpinia pulcherrima) are butterfly host and nectar plants, so come for your senses and stay for the show featuring both flora and fauna!

If you’re lucky – we weren’t – you’ll be able to catch butterflies as well as bees  flitting from flower to flower on the blue butterfly bush!

Written by: Janelle Jung, Senior Researcher (Research and Horticulture)

A transplanted pake (Hawai'i-born Chinese), she's finding her own Singaporean roots. Every plant has a story, and Janelle helps discover and share these with colleagues and guests, hoping to spark a mutual plant passion! Ask her what plant she named her cat after!

This article is part of our What's Blooming series.