Buttonbush, Cephalanthus occidentalis L.: Perennial shrub for moist areas

Description: In nature, Buttonbush, Cephalanthus occidentalis L., is found near streams and ponds, in swamps and in other wet areas including shallow flooded soils. It has multiple stems and typically grows 6-12 feet tall and 6-12 feet wide and occasionally bigger. Buttonbush’s medium green leaves emerge in spring and grow to 4 inches long and 2 inches wide, turning yellow in the autumn. The leaves are poisonous when eaten.

Flowers and Seeds: Buttonbush’s round, 1-1.5 inch, white to light-pink fragrant flower clusters resemble the coronavirus or a pincushion. The showy flowers appear in mid-summer. They mature to hard one-inch reddish ball-like fruits in the fall that turn brown and persist in the winter.

Planting sites: Buttonbush thrives in moist soil in full sun to part shade. It is suitable for areas with poor drainage. Organic soil amendments may improve flowering.

Watering Instructions: Buttonbush will do well in gardens if it is watered regularly. It is not appropriate for soils that will completely dry out, although it can survive brief dry spells.

Comments: Buttonbush is a high value shrub as a nectar source for hummingbirds, bees and butterflies, including Monarchs. It is also a larval host for several butterfly species and a seed source for birds, including ducks and other waterfowl. Buttonbush can become aggressive and the unimproved varieties are recommended for larger, naturalized areas. For the home garden, dwarf cultivars are available that only grow to 3-4 feet tall and wide. Buttonbush may be pruned into a tree shape and/or pruned back in early spring before new growth appears. It is not deer-tolerant. Because it is such a butterfly magnet, consider planting native Buttonbush instead of invasive non-native Butterfly Bush (Buddleia spp.). Companion plants include Crimson-eyed Rose-mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos L.), False Indigo Bush (Amorpha frutiscosa), Horsetail (Equisetum laevigatum), Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis) and Spiderwort (Tradescantia virginiana L.). Other Texas native plants that will tolerate moist and wet soil are suitable as companions as well.

Written by Dr. Becca Dickstein

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