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Plant Profile: Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis)

Buttonbush, also called honey-bells and button-willow, is a deciduous shrub or small tree native to wetlands such as swamps, marshes, riverbanks, and floodplains from New Brunswick and Minnesota south to Florida and Mexico, west to California. It is member of the madder family, Rubiaceae that also includes coffee, gardenia, and Pentas. The The glossy oval leaves are up to six inches long, and emerge late in the spring. The tiny white flowers are tubular, five-lobed, and sweet-smelling. They appear in spherical dense clusters up to 1.5” in diameter in early to midsummer and have long styles that give them a fuzzy appearance. Butterflies, bees , and hummingbirds are attracted to the nectar. The fruit is a spherical hard cluster of nutlets that are attractive to birds.Wood ducks use the plant for nests and deer browse the foliage. Plants are adaptable to a variety of soil conditions except dryness . It can tolerate flooding and can even be used in standing water so is a good choice for wet areas and pond margins as well as shrub borders and woodland gardens. The generic name Cephalanthus comes from the Greek words cephalo meaning head, and anthos meaning flower. The specific epithet occidentalis is the Latin word meaning western.

Type: Deciduous shrub or small tree

Outstanding Feature: Flowers; tolerance of wet soil

Form: Rounded

Growth Rate: Rapid

Bloom: Tiny white tubular, five-loved, sweet-smelling flowers with long styles; in spherical dense clusters up to 1.5” in diameter in early to midsummer

Size: 5-12’ H x 4’10’ W

Light: Full sun to partial shade

Soil: Average, moist

Hardiness: Zones 5-10

Care: Prune in early spring to control size and remove dead branches; plants can be heavily pruned.

Pests and Diseases: None of significance

Propagation: Seed, cuttings in early spring