Butterfly sweet pea shrub

Polygala fruticosa ‘Petite Butterflies’ (Sweet Pea Shrub)

Polygala fruticosa ‘Petite Butterflies’ (Sweet Pea Shrub)

This tidy evergreen shrub is a tried and true perennial that is beloved by avid gardeners far and wide. It has vibrant purple-magenta, pea-like flowers that have a soft-pink central crest. In mild winter areas this beautiful bush blooms almost year-round. It attracts bees, butterflies and birds, making it an excellent choice to include in a Wildlife Garden. Wildlife Gardens are designed to include, among other things, trees, shrubs, grasses, and groundcovers that provide the four basic habitat elements for wildlife to thrive: Food, water, shelter and places to raise their young.

Polygala fruticosa ‘Petite Butterflies’ has a compact, mounding growth habit and at maturity will reach 3 feet tall and wide. A late winter pruning will help to maintain its compact form. It is excellent as a foundation plant for beachside gardens as it is very tolerant of wind and salt spray. Plant in full to part sun, in well-drained soil. Provide regular irrigation. It is hardy to 15-20°F and the Sunset Climate Zones are 8-9, 14-24. We are currently selling Polygala fruticosa ‘Petite Butterflies’ in 1 gallon containers.

Petite Butterfly Sweet Pea Shrub in bloom

Petite Butterfly Sweet Pea Shrub in bloom

(Photo courtesy of NetPS Plant Finder)

* This is a “special order” plant – contact store for details

Height: 3 feet

Spread: 3 feet


Hardiness Zone: 8

Other Names: Shrubby Milkwort


A pretty upward growing shrub with evergreen boxwood-like foliage; vivid purple winged flowers with a whitish crest almost year round; cut flowers are long lasting in arrangements; coastal plant great for beachside plantings

Ornamental Features

Petite Butterfly Sweet Pea Shrub features dainty clusters of purple pea-like flowers with violet overtones at the ends of the branches from late winter to late fall. The flowers are excellent for cutting. It has attractive green foliage. The glossy oval leaves are highly ornamental and remain green throughout the winter. The fruit is not ornamentally significant.

Landscape Attributes

Petite Butterfly Sweet Pea Shrub is a multi-stemmed evergreen shrub with an upright spreading habit of growth. Its relatively fine texture sets it apart from other landscape plants with less refined foliage.

This is a relatively low maintenance shrub, and can be pruned at anytime. It has no significant negative characteristics.

Petite Butterfly Sweet Pea Shrub is recommended for the following landscape applications;

  • Accent
  • Rock/Alpine Gardens
  • General Garden Use

Planting & Growing

Petite Butterfly Sweet Pea Shrub will grow to be about 3 feet tall at maturity, with a spread of 3 feet. It has a low canopy. It grows at a medium rate, and under ideal conditions can be expected to live for approximately 10 years.

This shrub does best in full sun to partial shade. It does best in average to evenly moist conditions, but will not tolerate standing water. It is not particular as to soil type or pH, and is able to handle environmental salt. It is somewhat tolerant of urban pollution. This is a selected variety of a species not originally from North America.

* This is a “special order” plant – contact store for details

Polygala Species, Sweet Pea Shrub ‘Petite Butterflies’



Water Requirements:

Drought-tolerant; suitable for xeriscaping

Average Water Needs; Water regularly; do not overwater

Sun Exposure:

Sun to Partial Shade



Foliage Color:

Unknown – Tell us


24-36 in. (60-90 cm)


Unknown – Tell us


USDA Zone 9b: to -3.8 °C (25 °F)

USDA Zone 10a: to -1.1 °C (30 °F)

USDA Zone 10b: to 1.7 °C (35 °F)

USDA Zone 11: above 4.5 °C (40 °F)

Where to Grow:

Grow outdoors year-round in hardiness zone


Unknown – Tell us

Bloom Color:


Bloom Characteristics:

Unknown – Tell us

Bloom Size:

Unknown – Tell us

Bloom Time:

Late Spring/Early Summer

Mid Summer

Other details:

Unknown – Tell us

Soil pH requirements:

Unknown – Tell us

Patent Information:

Unknown – Tell us

Propagation Methods:

From softwood cuttings

From seed; sow indoors before last frost

From seed; direct sow after last frost

By simple layering

Seed Collecting:

Unknown – Tell us


This plant has been said to grow in the following regions:

Aliso Viejo, California

Arroyo Grande, California

Carlsbad, California

Escondido, California

Huntington Beach, California

Los Angeles, California

Mission Viejo, California

Napa, California(2 reports)

Oakland, California

Redlands, California

Redwood City, California

San Jose, California

Santa Clara, California

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Hold on – this is not the fragrant annual sweet pea flower you remember from home (I’ll write about those gems in a future article). This plant is an evergreen shrub producing vibrant violet/purple flowers that resemble sweet peas.

The plant: Hold on – this is not the fragrant annual sweet pea flower you remember from home (I’ll write about those gems in a future article). This plant is an evergreen shrub producing vibrant violet/purple flowers that resemble sweet peas. If you are a sap for sweet peas, like me, this bush provides another way to indulge your addiction. The sweet pea shrub is not well-known here in the Valley, but is becoming popular in California, especially the San Diego area. The sweet pea shrub hails from South Africa, and like other South African native plants it will survive in our low desert gardens. Its leaves are grayish/green and appearing spring to fall are flowers similar in appearance to the beloved sweet pea, but without that plant’s intoxicating fragrance. Don’t let that stop you from enjoying this deserving beauty in your gardenscape – it’s a repeat bloomer that will delight you year-round.

Growing guide: Light/partial shade exposure

Plant of the week illustration of Sweet Pea Bush, by Gabriel Utasi/TRIBUNE

Barn Goddess tips: If you want to create a cottage garden large or small, this plant is a perfect pick. Use it as a foundation plant at the back of the garden, or along a fence. I like to combine it with black hollyhocks, blue bell larkspur, heirloom roses, Goodwin Creek lavender, lambs ear and compact myrtle. For a vibrant tropical garden, plant sweet pea shrub with tropicanna canna, purple queen bougainvillea and San Diego red hibiscus. Monrovia has cultivated a compact variety called Petite Butterflies (Polygala fruticosa “MonMal”) that grows 3 feet to 4 feet tall. Look for the sweet pea shrub at nurseries selling Monrovia plants.

Maintenance: Follow a regular watering schedule during the first growing season to encourage development of a deep root system. Water can be reduced once plants are established. I recommend feeding plants each spring with an organic fertilizer like bat guano, blood meal, fish/seaweed emulsion, feather meal or an all-purpose organic fertilizer blend. You can add mulch, keeping it away from the plant’s base, during summer to retain moisture.

Cultural notes: Plant sweet pea shrub from transplant in well-drained soil in the spring. It grows to a height of 4 feet to 5 feet. Prepare soil for flowering plant cultivation. This plant is cold-hardy to 20 degrees. Once established, it can become a bit leggy, so consider planting low, bushy plants in front of it. A hard pruning in late winter will promote more compact growth.

What Is A Sweet Pea Bush: Tips For Growing Sweet Pea Shrubs

Sweet pea shrubs are neat, rounded evergreens that bloom off and on all year long. They’re perfect for those spots where you get shade in the summer and full sun in winter. Sweet pea shrubs make wonderful additions to mixed perennial borders in warm climates, and they also look great in patio containers. These tidy evergreen plants bloom in shades of purple or mauve with flowers that are great for bouquets and arrangements. Find out how to grow a sweet pea bush in this article.

What is a Sweet Pea Bush?

Unrelated to sweet pea garden flowers (Lathyrus odoratus), the sweet pea shrub (Polygalaspp.) gets its name from its similar-looking flowers. Sweet pea shrubs attract bees, butterflies and birds, making it an excellent choice for wildlife gardens. It grows 2 to 3 feet tall and thrives in sun or shade. Native to South Africa and sensitive to frost, it survives winters only in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 9 and 10.

Care of Sweet Pea Bush

The care of sweet pea bush is minimal. Sweet pea shrubs survive without a lot of supplemental irrigation, but they look best if you water them regularly. Remember that those grown in containers need water more often than those grown in the ground. Since they bloom year round, they appreciate a little general purpose fertilizer in both spring and fall.

One of the things that make sweet pea bush care so easy is that it needs little or no pruning. If you need to control the size, you can give it a light trim any time of year. The stems on older shrubs may become woody. In that case, you can cut it to about 10 inches above the ground and let it regrow. Otherwise, just leave it to grow naturally.

You might also want to try growing sweet pea shrubs as a small tree or standard. In that case, remove all but one stem arising from the ground and take off the side branches on the lower one-half to two-thirds of the trunk while the plant is young.

You can propagate Polygala species from seeds, which fall to the ground and take root if you don’t deadhead the plants regularly. Hybrids are usually sterile. Propagate them from softwood cuttings taken in spring or fall.

Dwarf Sweet Pea Bush

If your plant palette colors are pinks and purples, the perennial Dwarf Sweet Pea Bush, Polygala fruticosa, is a nice evergreen shrub to have in your garden. Just like its name, its pink-purple flowers resemble blooming sweet peas with pleasing grey-green foliage. Dwarf Sweet Pea Bush like sun, and moderate water. I consider it a low maintenance shrub with a long bloom time of several months.

At maturity, the Dwarf Sweet Pea Bush is generally a mounding shape 2′ tall x 2′ wide. Not to be confused with the standard size Sweet Pea Bush, Polygala dalmaisiana, which is very similar in appearance to the Dwarf Sweet Pea Bush, except that it can be a little more leggy, reach 3′ to 5′ in size, and is bare at its base. I personally prefer Dwarf Sweet Pea Bush in my garden.

Originally from South Africa, and in its native habitat grows close to the coast. It tolerates temperatures to 15-20F degrees. Dwarf Sweet Pea Bush, also goes by the names, Petite Butterfly and Butterfly Pea Shrub.

The Dwarf Sweet Pea Bush can be used as a charming cutting flower, as well as a perennial pleaser in the garden. Dwarf Sweet Pea can be found most likely, at your favorite local nursery, and also on the Internet.

Please share if you grow Dwarf Sweet Pea Bush in your garden.

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