Buttonbush is more than just a roadside and wetland shrub. Every part of this native plant is used by pollinators, which makes it a great choice for wildlife reclamation. Hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees are attracted to the plant's flowers. Buttonbush's seeds offer food for wetland-dwelling birds, and its leaves provide shelter for ducks, anhingas, and other native birds.
Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) is classified either as a shrub or as a small tree. Gardeners enjoy this plant because it is one of Florida's native nectar resources. The shrub usually grows up to 10 feet and spreads across 6 to 8 feet. Without maintenance, it will occupy a considerable amount of border space along a freshwater shoreline.
Without pruning, buttonbush develops a round form. It has multiple, sprawled-out stems with protruding branches. The stems vary in appearance. Some are a brownish-gray color; others are reddish-orange. The bark's texture ranges from smooth to rough due to raised bumps on the surface. The deciduous leaves on buttonbush have a pear-like shape with a tapered end. They are a vibrant dark green and range in size, from 2 to 7 inches long and 2 to 3 inches wide.
Buttonbush's flowering season is between March and August. In North and Central Florida it blooms in both spring and summer. In South Florida it flowers in summer only. This species has spherical white puffball flowers with yellow tips. After flowering, the flower heads become a brown fruit that splits into small nuts. Though buttonbush flowers in the warmer months, the fruits persist through the winter.
Planting and Care
Buttonbush thrives in USDA Hardiness Zones 5 through 10. It is the ideal bog garden plant; Cephalanthus occidentalis prefers moderate to wet soil with full sun to partial shade. Seeds and cuttings require moist, sandy soil with poor drainage. Buttonbush has a low soil salt tolerance and grows naturally in freshwater wetlands. In the home landscape, it needs moderate irrigation to keep the soil moist, especially in drier areas.
Buttonbush also benefits from pruning. This keeps the plant smaller and more manageable in the landscape. There are no significant pest or disease issues that impact the health of the shrub. It should be noted that parts of this plant, particularly the leaves, are toxic.
Although this species requires some care and attention, we think it is worth the effort. Buttonbush has a long lifespan that will encourage pollinators to visit for years to come.
For more information on buttonbush, contact your county Extension office.