The first thing you will notice about Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) is its showy blooms. Its ball shaped flowers that resemble little white pom-poms are beautiful and unique.
Upon closer inspection, you’ll see that the fragrant flowers are alive with pollinators! If you’re looking to add a large shrub to your native plant gardens that will benefit insect pollinators and wildlife, then Buttonbush is a fun one to try.
This shrub is native to 37 states in the U.S.
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5 Reasons to Grow Buttonbush
1. It is an awesome nectar plant
The fragrant white flowers that appear on the plant from June to August (early summer to late summer) are irresistible to native bumble bees, honey bees, butterflies, and other pollinators.
You will often see a variety of insect species enjoying the same round clusters of flowers. It’s fun to watch! To get the most flowers on your Buttonbush plant it in full sun with supplemental water.
2. It provides food for wildlife
Starting in the early fall, the flowers transition to reddish brown nutlets that resemble balls or buttons. These fruits provide food for wildlife, especially water birds such as wood ducks, over the winter. According to Native Texas Plants, they attract more than 25 species of waterfowl!
If your property is close to a body of water, this would be a great plant to provide food for birds visiting the water.
3. It is a moth host plant
In addition to having nectar plants available to feed adult butterflies and moths, it is equally important to grow host plants. These are the specific plants that butterflies and moths will lay their eggs on because their caterpillars can eat them.
4. It is a great choice for a rain garden or erosion control
Buttonbush is not picky about the soil type. It likes wet areas and can even handle flood conditions, so wet soils and poor drainage is ok. It is a versatile native shrub for a rain garden or to prevent erosion.
In natural areas, you’ll often see buttonbush shrubs growing along lowland areas, wet thickets, rivers, and stream banks.
5. It makes a presence in your garden
If you are looking for unique native plants to add to your garden, then Buttonbush tree is a great choice, as long as you have plenty of room. This deciduous shrub grows 6-9 feet tall and wide. It is a great statement plant to mix in with smaller native perennials.
The large woody shrub thrives in full sun but can handle part shade. In addition to its summer blooms, it can provide some fall color to your garden through its deep reddish brown fruits and yellow foliage.
What does Buttonbush look like?
Buttonbush is a multi-stemmed shrub that typically grows 6-9 feet tall. However it can sometimes reach the size of a small tree, over 15 feet tall. It has some of the most unique flowers of any shrub.
The spherical flower heads are 1-2 inches large surrounded by pistils. They resemble golf balls or pom-poms. The plant has glossy green leaves, and in the fall and winter will have reddish brown nutlets / fruit.
Where is the Buttonbush plant native to?
Button bush has a broad native range throughout North America. In the U.S. it is native in the Southern and Eastern United States. It is also native to parts of Canada and Mexico. Here is a list of states where it is native to:
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New York
- North Carolina
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- West Virginia
What is the scientific name for Buttonbush?
This plant’s scientific name is Cephalanthus occidentalis. It is in the genus Cephalanthus which combines the Greek words for “head” and “flower”. The species name “occidentalis” refers to the West.
What are the other common names for Buttonbush?
A plant has only one scientific name. However, a single plant can have many common names. In addition to being called Buttonbush, it also goes by Common Buttonbush, Button Willow, and Honey Bells.
How do you grow Buttonbush?
Buttonbush can grow in full sun to partial sun / partial shade. It will bloom throughout the summer in full sun, and on and off in shade.
It may require supplemental watering in full sun or periods of drought, as it likes moist soil. I have seen a Buttonbush thriving in full sun with drip irrigation. This wetland shrub can even handle living in some standing water.
Buttonbush tends to grow into an irregular form and can spread by suckers. You can prune new growth as needed to create a more rounded habit and limit sideways shoots. Cutting back the limbs significantly in late winter / early spring will also help keep its size in check.
You can collect buttonbush seeds for propagation, or you can propagate the plant by soft root cuttings.
What is Buttonbush a great native alternative for?
If you have a non-native Vitex (Butterflybush) in you yard, consider replacing it with Common Buttonbush. This native will attract just as many pollinators and has a similar growth habit to Vitex, without being invasive. Vitex has shown to be invasive in dry creek beds in Texas.
Prefers moist to wet soil. Provide supplemental water in full sun.
Prune as needed to maintain a rounded shape. Prune suckers and sideways growth. You can cut back branches significantly in late winter / early spring to keep its size in check.
Buttonbush can be propagated by soft root cuttings or by seed.
Hi, I’m Haeley! Welcome to Native Backyards.
I’m Haeley Giambalvo, the founder of Native Backyards and the author of this post! I really appreciate you stopping by, and I hope you found the information you needed. Feel free to reach out to me at any time with questions via email or on Instagram @NativeBackyards.
Together, we can help the Earth from our own yards by growing more native plants that support pollinators, birds and wildlife!