An attractive native shrub that birds and pollinators love
Story and Photos by Norman Winter
@NormanWinterTheGardenGuy on Facebook
Dr. Jeffrey Glassberg, president and founder of the North American Butterfly Association, taught me how to enjoy butterflies through binoculars. In fact, he has authored a series of books on the subject. As a horticulturist, you can’t help but be amazed at seeing the plant world through binoculars while you are enjoying the butterflies.
The buttonbush is just one such plant that has simply amazed me with its intricate design and beauty. There are two buttonbush species in the United States, the common buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) and the taller willow leaf buttonbush (C. salicifolius) found only in far southern Texas.
Common buttonbush should be famous if for no other reason than it is native to all but 11 states and parts of Canada. In Georgia it is native to several counties, including Chatham, Liberty, McIntosh, and Camden along our coast.
It is found growing in wet areas, close to streams and lakes, but grows in fertile upland soils as well. The multi-stemmed shrubs reach 6-12 feet tall. The button or pincushion-like flowers are simply incredible; even better, the fragrant blooms are produced most of the summer
The globe-shaped flowers may be white or pink and measure over 1 inch with long protruding styles. They provide nectar for butterflies and larval food for some of the more colorful sphinx moths. The resulting seeds are eaten by 25 species of primarily water and shore-type birds.
The seed heads are assets in winter landscapes. The flowers mature into hard, globose, ball-like fruits consisting of many small two-seeded nutlets. The seed heads usually persist throughout the winter.
As you might expect, being native to such a large area, disease pressures are low. Those looking for plants to attract honeybees will find buttonbush highly rated.
It is awesome when a native shrub produces fragrant exotic blossoms and feeds birds and butterflies too. That makes it a winner in my book!
Quick Facts and Keys to Success
Common Name: Buttonbush
Botanical Name: Cephalanthus occidentalis, C. salicifolius
Bloom Color: White
Bloom Time: June-August
Type: Deciduous shrub
Size: 6-12 feet
Exposure: full to partial sun
When to Plant: Spring and summer
How to Plant: Space plants 8-10 feet apart
Soil: Moist, very tolerant of soggy conditions.
Maintenance: Low; responds well to cutting back hard if necessary to bring back to desired size.
In Your Landscape: In woodland gardens and along pond edges.