Common Name: Buttonbush
Scientific Name: Cephalanthus occidentalis L.
Form: Deciduous scrubby arching shrub
Height/Spread: 10-12 ft tall (upwards as high as 20 ft), spread similar to height.
Leaves: Deciduous, simple, entire margin, ovate to elliptical shape with acute tip and rounded (obtuse) base, opposite arrangement (sometimes in whorls of 3), dark green glabrous above sometimes minutely pubescent (hairy) below.
Twigs: New twigs reddish brown, slightly haired to hairless with raised corky lenticels.
Bark: Older twigs and larger stems grayish, rough, and fissured.
Flowers: Numerous fragrant small white flowers arranged in a dense globe. Stamens projecting from the cluster give it a pincushion like appearance. Flowers are borne in loose cymes typically at the end and axis of new growth. Blooms throughout the summer months; June through September.
Fruit and Seeds: Globose cluster of nutlets
Habitat : Buttonbush is an obligate wetland shrub to be found in swamps, marshes, forested wetlands and along the borders of lakes, streams and ponds.
Range: Eastern Canada to Florida and west to California, Mexico, and Cuba. Found throughout Florida.
Shade Tolerance: Tolerant
Fire Tolerance: Not tolerant. May re-sprout following fire.
Wildlife Use: Waterfowl and shorebirds consume the fruit. Bees and butterflies collect pollen and nectar from flowers.
Field ID: Buttonbush is easily recognized by its opposite or whorled leaf arrangement and or the presence of the globose white flower heads and globose fruit. Buttonbush is an obligate wetland species.
Information: The scientific name for buttonbush, Cephalanthus is from the Greek Kephale for head and anthos for flower. The globe like cluster of flowers do resemble old style globular buttons which may reveal the derivation of the common name. The Miccosukee of Florida called buttonbush “alligator shader” which seems appropriate considering their common locale along lake or river edges. Native Americans throughout the Eastern US found many medicinal uses for buttonbush. Recent analysis of the chemistry of buttonbush has revealed gylcosides that can be toxic to humans and livestock. So, leave this one for bees and butterflies.
References and Additional Resources:
- Austin, Daniel F. Florida Ethnobotany. Boca Raton: CRC Press. 2004
- Floridata record Cephalanthus occidentalis
- Godfrey, Robert K. Trees, Shrubs, and Woody Vines of Northern Florida and Adjacent Georgia and Alabama. Athens and London: University of Georgia Press. 1988
- Miller, James H., and Karl V. Miller. Forest Plants of the Southeast and Their Wildlife Uses. Athens and London: University of Georgia Press. 2005
- MOBOT Plant Finder Cephalanthus occidentalis
- NPIN Native Plant Database Cephalanthus occidentalis
- Tiner, Ralph W. Field Guide to Coastal Wetland Plants of the Southeastern United States. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press. 1993
- UF/IFAS Fact Sheet Cephalanthus occidentalis
- USDA Plants Profile Cephalanthus occidentalis
- US Forest Service Database Cephalanthus occidentalis
- Virginia Tech Tree ID Cephalanthus occidentalis