Backyard Nature Wednesday: Buttonbush

When the calendar rolled around to May this year, my daughters asked me for a wish list for Mother's Day. I took advantage of their generosity by giving them a list of some plants that I wished to add to my habitat garden. They responded by gifting me with three wonderful shrubs on that list, and that's how I came to have a buttonbush.

Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) is native to North America and Cuba. It is a deciduous shrub that can grow from five to twelve feet high and, in perfect conditions, even taller. It can spread out as much as eight feet wide. I remembered the plant with its interesting blooms growing around the fields and creek banks of my childhood on the farm and I had long wanted to add one to my garden here.

This shrub grows quite happily in full sun to part shade and in soils that range from medium moisture to quite wet. It pouts a bit if conditions get too dry. I planted mine along the back fence, far away from faucets and from ease of watering, and we did have many weeks almost completely without  rain this summer. Moreover, I was in no condition physically to do much to help the plant. I did manage to get the sprinklers focused on it a couple of times when the situation got dire. In fact, the shrub came through its drought ordeal quite well and is now putting out lots of new growth. Since it was its first year, I wasn't expecting much in the way of blooms. Mature plants are typically covered with these white ball-shaped spiky blooms in late spring and summer. My new plant actually surprised me with a good number of the blooms, and, as you can see, it is still sending out new blooms. The one on the right is several days old while the one on the left is just beginning to open up. The blooms are quite showy and they have a subtle fragrance. They are greatly loved by bees and butterflies.   

You can probably imagine how the plant got its popular name. The bloom does look a bit like a big button and the bloom matures into a hard spherical ball-like fruit that looks even more like a button. When the blossom is fully open like this one, it reminds me of a pincushion full of pins, so if I had been naming it, I might have called it pincushion plant.

 The fruiting heads persist through the winter. I'm not sure if they attract birds, but I'll have a chance to find out this winter.


  1. Lovely bloom; I had never seen it before.

    1. It's not a usual garden staple, but if you look around when you are out in a wild place, you might encounter it. I believe it grows pretty much all over the country except in very dry and sandy places.

  2. It's beautiful! I'll have to go visit it when I come out to see y'all this weekend!

  3. What wonderful daughters you must have!


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