Beautiful & Wide-Ranging Buttonbush

Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) is full of fabulous white round balls of flowers in spring and summer.  The genus name, Cephalanthus, means flowering (anthus) head (cephal), and the species name, occidentalis, means of or from the West.  This beautiful plant of moist places (think river edges and other wetlands) ranges from Texas and California, throughout the midwest, and into northeast Canada — not to mention Cuba, Mexico, and South America.  It is deciduous in cooler climates.

Its glossy green leaves are opposite or sometimes whorled.  The smooth leaves have a deep pinnate venation, which belies its relationship to wild coffee (Psychotria nervosa), another member of the madder family, Rubiaceae.  Its ovate leaves can be 2 – 7″ long.

Its globular flowers are 1 to 1 1/2″ in diameter and occur on the ends of new growth.  Buttonbush grows at the Oslo Riverfront Conservation Area ( ORCA) on the south side of  Oslo Road where the high dry land of the xeric scrubby pine flatwoods slope downward toward the Indian River Lagoon.  These smidges of freshwater wetlands will be more accessible when new boardwalks are installed by Indian River County, hopefully in August of 2018.

In partial shade, as at south ORCA buttonbush has an open, lanky form, shown above.  In full sun, buttonbush grows as thick shrub, as seen below at the recently opened Fellsmere Trailhead Preserve off of County Road 512 just west of I-95.

It can be a large shrub or a small tree, usually 10 to 20′.  Its trunks grow to be 3-6″ in diameter and are covered with thick red-brown rough bark.

Sometimes its petioles (leaf stems) are an attractive red color.

Its flowers are very attractive to a variety of insects, including European honeybees.

Its leaves are a larval host for the titan sphinx (Aellopos titan) and the hydrangea sphinx (Darapsa versicolor) moths. Deer browse the foliage.

Its fruits are a dry, persistent nutlet.  Ducks and other granivorous birds including jays, cardinals, nuthatches, titmice, warblers, and mockingbirds consume the seed.

With its distinctive Sputnik-shaped white flowers, buttonbush can be an attractive addition to a home landscape as seen below on the edge of a pond at the home of Tanya & Jim Goldsmith on a visit by the Eugenia Chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society.

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