Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) is a deciduous shrub native to the eastern half of the U.S. It can be found growing naturally along creeks, ponds, lakes, and other fairly wet areas. Buttonbush can also be grown as a native ornamental in mostly sunny areas where the soil is on the moist side of medium to wet. This is one plant that doesn’t mind having its feet wet for a good portion of the year.
As a shrub, buttonbush typically grows to between 5 and 10 feet tall. If left to grow naturally, it will often take on a multi-stemmed nature and can have a 5 to 6 foot spread. As an ornamental, it can often be trimmed to take on a “neater” appearance if desired. The leaves have been reported as toxic to livestock and many mammals, so planting it in a pasture may not be a wise idea.
In Kentucky, buttonbush typically blooms from late June or early July through at least late August and sometimes slightly later. The flowers are dense balls of white flowers that produce a pleasant, sweet smell. It will flower more in sunnier areas than in shadier areas. After buttonbush is done blooming, it produces clusters of seeds that are highly attractive to waterfowl and other birds.
Pollinators absolutely love buttonbush. Numerous butterflies including painted ladies, skippers, hoary edge butterflies, swallowtails, monarchs and fritillaries will drink nectar from the flowers. Honey bees and lots of different kinds of native bees will also eagerly visit the flowers. This is good news for beekeepers who are always looking for plants, especially shrubs or trees, which bloom during this time period and that are attractive to honey bees. Buttonbush is also a host plant for the titan sphinx moth, the hydrangea sphinx moth, and the royal walnut moth.
If you want to plant for pollinators and have space for a good-sized shrub in a sunny, semi-moist to wet area, then buttonbush is one to seriously consider planting. Many nurseries focusing on native plants and plants for pollinators, including my nursery, carry it. Buttonbush is definitely high on my list of favorite plants for pollinators and other wildlife.
This article was part of Shannon’s original Kentucky Pollinators and Backyard Wildlife blog which evolved into the blog for Backyard Ecology. All of Shannon’s Kentucky Pollinators and Backyard Wildlife blogs can be found at https://shannontrimboli.com/posts/blog/.
Backyard Ecology: Creating Space for Pollinators and Wildlife
Nature isn’t just “out there.” It’s all around us, including right outside our doors. Hi, my name is Shannon Trimboli, and I am the host of Backyard Ecology. I live in southcentral Kentucky and am a wildlife biologist, educator, author, and owner of a nursery specializing in plants for pollinators and wildlife conservation. I started Backyard Ecology as a way to share my love of exploring nature and learning about different plants and animals. I invite you to join me as we ignite our curiosity and natural wonder, explore our yards and communities, and improve our local pollinator and wildlife habitat. Learn more or subscribe to my email list at www.backyardecology.net.