Tennessee Smart Yards Native Plants

A comprehensive database of Tennessee native plants

Buttonbush Offers Year-round Interest


Buttonbush Is Large Shrub

Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis), aka Button-willow or Honey Bells, is a medium to large native shrub with many fine landscape attributes. This unique flowering shrub is a favorite in attracting beneficial wildlife. It populates bogs, swamps and pond areas, as well as dry limestone bluffs in the eastern U.S. and southeastern Canada (USDA hardiness zones 5–9).

White pompom flowers are the unique ornamental asset. Tiny fragrant flowers appear in creamy white balls that are 1 – 1 ¼ inches in diameter in late spring (in Philadelphia, PA) to early summer (northern New England). Long projecting styles from the flower

Cephalanthus occidentalis at Chicago Botanical Garden

heads gives it a distinctive pincushion appearance. Flower heads mature into hard spherical ball-like fruits containing tiny two-seeded nutlets. Dried seed balls persist all winter long.

Give the buttonbush room to grow. This multi-stemmed deciduous shrub grows 6-12 feet tall and 4-7 feet wide. On older shrubs stems and trunks appear twisted when twigs are bare of leaves in winter. Pruning is usually unnecessary and is done in early spring to shape or reduce plant dimensions. Old neglected plants may be revitalized by cutting them back near to the ground in late winter.

Buttonbush has year-round garden interest with late spring flowers, summer and fall foliage, and fall/winter fruits. Narrow oval green deciduous leaves emerge in spring and turn shades of red in fall. It has no serious disease or insect problems. Foliage is poisonous to humans and livestock; deer may snack on new spring growth.

Buttonbush is best planted in wet, humus-rich soils and in full sun to part shade. Favorite landscape sites include in rain gardens or the edge of ponds. Established plants after 1-2 years are moderately drought tolerant.

Fragrant flowers attract butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds for nectar. Leaves are the larval host for some butterfly species. Waterfowl, quail, and other birds feed on the nut-like seeds. Cut flowers look great in fresh summer bouquets or in dried arrangements.

This blog is taken from “What Grows There”– a website created by Hugh Conlon. It provides a host of helpful information on a wide range of gardening topics, from many species of flowers, trees, shrubs and grasses to practical hints on garden maintenance, garden problems and lawn care. Hugh has worked for 30+ years as a horticultural educator. Before retiring, he was most recently horticulturist for University of Tennessee Extension, Washington County.

Link to original post on ” What Grow’s There” here.

3 responses to “Buttonbush Offers Year-round Interest

  1. Sharon July 8, 2017 at 12:39 pm

    I just found a Button Bush growing by the roadside in Roane Co., WV. I am 70 and have always been interested in nature, being now a beekeeper for 9 years, I notice plants that I didn’t before, have never seen a Button Bush. So proud I was able to find then identify by using your post. Thank you so much. phonepoet07@yahoo.com

  2. Bonnie Palmer February 15, 2018 at 2:14 pm

    I like to raise butterflies and this is my FAVORITE in my garden. Everyone that sees it wants to know what it is. I am happy I found your web site as I am getting ready to transform a small section of our farm into wildflowers with a concentration of milkweeds and TN Passion Vine and various other native nectar and larval foods for the butterflies.

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