Butterfly Flower (Schizanthus) – The Complete Guide

The butterfly flower (Schizanthus) impresses with its lush flowering, which you can stimulate by appropriate care measures.

If you take into account the site conditions, you have a low-maintenance ornamental plant that offers versatile uses. The herbaceous plants are suitable for outdoor and indoor use.


The butterfly flower is also known as fringeflower and poor-man’s-orchid. The plants originate from South America, where they grow in the coastal regions of Chile. Their range extends from Antofagasta in the north to Lake Llanquihue in the south.

Two of the twelve species within this genus managed to spread across the high mountain regions of the Andes to Argentina.

These species are characterized by particularly robust properties. The butterfly flower reached different parts of the world by ship voyages, where they are cultivated as annual plants.


The herbaceous plants develop flowers with five petals, which are mirror symmetrical. One petal protrudes forward while two petals incline to the side.

The two posterior petals fuse into a cupule and bent backward. Each flower stands on a pedicel that bends back during the growing season.

When the plants are in full bloom, the flower stalks rotate by 72 degrees. Unlike other nightshade plants, butterfly flowers develop free-standing sepals.

The flowering season extends from spring to late summer, with plants coming into bloom several times.

Butterfly flowers are rarely pure white in color. The color palette of the flowers is broad, ranging from red to yellow to blue and black. They can appear monochromatic or multicolored.

Variegated specimens develop conspicuous markings in the center of the flower. A yellow-black-colored flower eye is typical. Monochromatic cultivars bear pink, red, or white hues.

The color intensity of peasant orchids is intense and is characterized by high luminosity.


The butterfly flower develops ovoid capsule fruits with a blunt or rounded tip.

One fruit contains between twelve and 34 seeds, which are only two millimeters long. The fruits can grow up to ten millimeters in size.

They develop several times a year. The first fruit ripens in May, while the last fruit development occurs in September.


The butterfly flower develops finely divided foliage that lies flat over the substrate. Leaves are heavily lobed, creating a pinnate appearance.

The subsections have a coarsely serrated leaf margin. The leaves grow between 1 and 3 inches (3 and 9 cm) long.

With their lush, glossy green, they contrast aesthetically with the brightly colored flowers. In the fall, the leaves wither.


The majority of farm orchids grow as annuals. Only rarely do the plants grow over two growing seasons.

These ornamental plants are mainly cultivated as annuals. They are partially woody at their base and grow between 10 and 40 inches (25 and 100 cm) high.

The entire plant is sticky, as the surfaces of the leaves, stems, and flowers are covered with glands that produce a viscous secretion.

Is the Butterfly Flower Poisonous?

The butterfly flower contains high levels of various alkaloids that produce poisonous effects once consumed.

The chemical compounds are nitrogenous organic substances produced secondarily by the plants in certain cells.

All plant parts of the butterfly flower possess alkaloids, which even in small doses have strong effects on the organism of animals.

In humans, they cause discomfort in the stomach and intestines, which can lead to nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Therefore, you need to be careful when cultivating butterfly flowers in the presence of children or pets.


Annuals have been considered popular ornamental plants since the advent of cottage gardens. They mainly decorate balconies and terraces during the Easter season.

Butterfly flowers can decorate tables and benches in entrance areas and create a spring-like atmosphere next to front doors and on steps.

They produce a wild look and enchanted oases in the garden. The ornamental plants are ideal for country-rustic-themed gardens.

The ornamental plants are suitable for indoor and outdoor use. Butterfly flowers can also grow as specimen plants in pots.

They thrive in small groups in the garden bed under trees or in an open and unshaded area. They are especially effective near flowering hedges and shrubs.

Spindle trees (Euonymus), Cornelian cherries (Cornus mas), and other members of the dogwood (Cornus) family are ideal planting partners for butterfly flowers. But butterfly flowers also harmonize with candytuft (Iberis), garden lobelia (Lobelia erinus), mallows (Malva), and daisies (Leucanthemum).

Which Location is Suitable for the Butterfly Flower?

Make sure you have a sheltered location where there is no wind. Butterfly flowers prefer a location with sunny conditions. But even in a semi-shaded location, the blooms turn out lush if the care conditions are right.

Shady locations are also possible but will provide less flower development.

If you are cultivating your butterfly flower in a container, entryways, patios and stairways provide ideal locations. Outdoors, the plants like to grow under trees or in full-sun spots with a good water supply.

What Kind of Soil Does the Butterfly Flower Need?

The butterfly flower prefers a well-drained substrate with a high percentage of humus. Compost soil or manure is ideal for enriching the soil.

The soil should be well-drained to prevent waterlogging. You can also mix heavy soil with sand to improve the soil properties of the butterfly flower.

Sowing the Butterfly Flower

Butterfly flowers are light-sprouting. The first step is to sprinkle the seeds on the soil. But make sure the seeds are not covered by soil.

Then wet the seeds evenly with water. It is a good idea to use a spray bottle for this, as vigorous watering will sop up the soil and the seeds would float in accumulated wetness.

Next, wrap a translucent fleece around the planter to keep the humidity constant. Ventilate once a day to prevent mold growth.

Place the planter in a bright location with temperatures between 68 and 77 °F (20 and 25 °C) during the day. At night, temperatures should not drop below 64 °F (18 °C).

Make sure that the planter stands in a wind-protected location. Under optimal conditions, the seeds begin to germinate after three days. Usually, it takes seven days for the first signs of germination to appear.

What is the Best Time for Planting Butterfly Flowers?

Seedlings grown in March are ready for planting outdoors between April and May.

You can repot plants that you have pre-pulled in the fall into pots as early as mid-March. You should then place the pot in a protected location.

If you want to sow the seeds directly in the bed, you can also start in March.

The Best Planting Distance for Butterfly Flowers

Do not plant butterfly flowers too close together. The ornamental plants need space between each other when planted outdoors so that the foliage can dry quickly after a downpour.

Stands that are too close together promote a moist microclimate where fungal spores find optimal growing conditions. A distance of at least 8 inches (20 cm) from the nearest planting partner is ideal.

Butterfly Flowers On the Balcony

The butterfly flower is an ideal plant for the balcony. Here it thrives magnificently in a balcony box. Cultivated as a container plant, it is perfect for the early decoration of balconies.

You can put the butterfly flower on the balcony in March. The plant tolerates temperatures down to 19 °F (-7 °C) without any problems.

Butterfly Flowers in the Greenhouse

Greenhouses are ideal for growing seeds, as they ensure high and constant humidity. Here you can sow self-collected seeds or seeds purchased from specialized stores in the fall.

Be sure to place the greenhouse in a consistently warm place. Once the seedlings have grown about half an inch tall, you should move them to larger planters.

If you have a large enough greenhouse, there is no need to transplant. The following spring, the plants will be ready for planting in a container or outdoors.

The Butterfly Flower in a Pot

Butterfly flowers are ideal for cultivation in a pot. You can place the containers outside already early in the year.

The plants don’t mind fluctuating temperatures and also have no problems with late frosts.

Propagating the Butterfly Flower

Seeds, which develop several times a year, are suitable for the propagation of annual plants. However, not every cultivated form produces germinable seeds.

You can find out by sowing the seeds on moist soil and observing. Leave the faded flower stalks so that the fruits can ripen.

Since the seeds are a few millimeters in size, picking them off requires some dexterity. Alternatively, you can obtain seeds from a shop.

The seeds retain their germination capacity for several months, so you can also store them before sowing.

But be sure to store them in a cool, dry place, as warm temperatures and humidity will encourage the seeds to germinate. You may want to collect the seeds in a paper bag.

Pruning the Butterfly Flower Properly

After the first bloom in May, vigorous pruning encourages the development of a second bloom.

Cut off the wilted flower stalks. You can cut butterfly flowers back by two-thirds. The plant will develop numerous side shoots on which new flowers will appear.

If you want to propagate the plant, wait until the fruit ripens before cutting back the stems. Cut off wilted leaves regularly to prevent rotting.

You can remove wilted flowers throughout the year, but you should give the plant a final pruning in August. The plant will continually develop new shoots until the last flowers have wilted in September.

After heavy rains, also make sure to cut off broken stems. This will prevent the plant parts from rotting between the fresh shoots.

Use sharp pruning shears to avoid tearing the tissue when you cut. Small wounds provide a good breeding ground for fungal spores when conditions are very moist.

Fertilizing Butterfly Flowers Properly

Butterfly flowers have high energy needs, which increase even more at flower development time. Therefore, you should fertilize the plants every two weeks.

This nutrient supply results in lush flower development, making the plant’s leaves barely noticeable beneath the blooms. Use balcony flower fertilizer or liquid fertilizer enriched with guano.

Young plants do not require fertilization, though. The plants should be at least eight weeks old when fertilizing for the first time. After vigorous pruning, butterfly flowers need additional fertilization to help them regenerate quickly.

Watering the Butterfly Flower

These ornamental plants are characterized by a high water requirement. Never allow the soil ball to dry out completely and keep the soil in the container and outdoors evenly moist.

Butterfly flowers do not tolerate waterlogging, which is why the planter should have a drainage hole.

You should water pot plants only through the saucer and outdoor plants at the base. The butterfly flower is extremely sensitive when its flowers get wet.

They look unsightly after a rain shower, as the petals hang limply. Intense rainfall can even cause flower stalks to break off. The good news is that these plants usually regenerate quickly.

Pricking Out the Butterfly Flower

After about two weeks, transplant the seedlings from the growing container into a larger pot. They should have grown at least 0.5 inches (1 cm) tall by then.

When the plants have reached 4 inches (10 cm), you can cut off the tops. By doing so, you will encourage bushy growth.

Fungal Infestation in Butterfly Flowers

Fungi can attack butterfly flowers in conditions that are too humid. Waterlogging is in fact one of the most common causes of fungal diseases.

When the roots rot, spores find an ideal breeding ground and spread. The roots can then no longer draw enough nutrients and water from the soil, so flowering declines, and the plant wilts.

Stands that are planted too densely promote a moist environment because the plant no longer receives adequate aeration.

Also, wilting leaves that have not been removed in time provide good growing conditions for spores.

Therefore, do not place plants too close together in the bed and remove dead plant material regularly.


Because of the alkaloids they contain, butterfly flowers are uninteresting to pests. Aphids do not attack them and they also do not provide an attractive food source for slugs and beetles.

Is the Butterfly Flower Winter Hardy?

As an annual plant, you cannot overwinter the butterfly flower. After the plant wilts in the fall, you can therefore compost the remains.

In the spring, adult plants tolerate temperatures that do not fall below 19 °F (-7 °C).

Young plants should be brought in at low temperatures, though. Otherwise, there is a risk that night frosts will damage the young plants.

Good to know

Cut off the wilted flowers as deeply as possible and shorten the plants slightly at the sides. Push the plants slightly to the side and mix some fresh compost into the soil. Water the plants vigorously. After three weeks, the butterfly flower will be in full bloom.

Beautiful Varieties

  • Tinkerbell: This variety blooms in pink, light purple, and white, with a yellow and black flower eye. It blooms between June and October and reaches growing heights between 20 and 24 inches (50 and 60 cm).
  • Compacta: This variety comes with finely lobed leaves. The flowers are unicolored or multicolored with red, yellow, and white nuances. It grows between 12 and 16 inches (30 and 40 cm) tall.
  • Schizanthus grahamii: This butterfly flower develops palm-sized flowers with star-shaped sepals. It shows a pronounced growth with densely branched shoots and numerous flower clouds. the corollas are golden yellow with red veining, the sepals are vivid red or pink. It blooms between July and September and grows between 28 and 36 inches (70 and 90 cm) tall.
  • Schizanthus pinnatus: The flowers are bright pinkish red, ruby red or dark purple. The flowering period for this variety even extends through late summer. It grows up to 36 inches (90 cm) tall.
  • Schizanthus × wisetonensis: This butterfly flower hybrid has finely divided foliage. The flowers come in red-white, creamy yellow, purple-yellow or various shades of pink. It grows up to 32 inches (80 cm) tall.