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Cephalanthus occidentalis (Buttonbush)

Common Names: Buttonbush, button willow, honey plant
Zone: 5 to 9
Plant Type: Deciduous shrub
Height: 3 m (10-12 feet)
Bloom: creamy white in August
Habitat: full sun to part shade in moist to wet soils
Fall Colour: none

Cephalanthus occidentalis ButtonbushI first saw a buttonbush in bloom while on vacation in Nova Scotia. Hundreds of fuzzy golf ball shaped creamy white flowers appear in August making this a very unusual site.

An Ontario native, Cephalanthus occidentalis or common buttonbush is a multi-stemmed shrub growing up to 3 meters or 10-12 feet. The foliage is long, with a pointed tip and is often glossy green. I was pleased to see that the foliage was bothered by very few pests or diseases and although buttonbush provided no fall colour the foliage looked good right until the end of the season.

Long-lasting flowers are creamy-white, fuzzy balls about one-inch in size. They mature to round nutlets that remain on the plant throughout winter.

Cephalanthus occidentalis is a food source for butterflies, bees and other nectar insects with the fruit a source for birds and in particular water fowl. It is also a larval host and/or nectar source for Titan sphinx (Aellopos titan) and Hydrangea sphinx (Darapsa versicolor).

Cephalanthus occidentalis Buttonbush
Buttonbush in the Carolinian Garden in 2010

I find it a very useful native plant for landscaping due to both it’s unusual flower and the fact that it blooms in late summer when most trees and shrubs are finished blooming. If you have a wet area in your yard, Cephalanthus occidentalis may due well as it prefers moist and even wet soils, often growing along pond edges. Having said that, specimens planted in my new woodland garden are doing fine now that they are established. I will be interested to watch these grow as several were purchased from a local landscape nursery while one was purchased from a local native plant nursery near our home – Sweet Grass Gardens.

Garden Location: 2 planted in the Carolinian Garden in 2007, three more in 2009.

2 Responses

  1. Pam
    | Reply

    Hi there! I live in Kingston, Ontario and have one of these wonderful Buttonbushes, not sure what species it is. When I planted it, about 2016, I did not realize it was such a water loving plant until recently researching it more. Where I have planted it it is dry and has very little soil on top of typical Kingston limestone. The strange thing is it seems to be quite happy there. It has bloomed every year. I do keep a soaker hose on it so I can keep it directly watered but it rarely gets a real soaking over summer. Anyway my question is should I be cutting this guy back in the fall or spring and if so by how much. I did last spring but felt maybe it was too much. Or can I just let it go for a couple of years. I don’t have a huge area around it so that’s why I have been trimming it at all. This bush is my favourite specimen and would hate to lose it before it’s time.

    • Everchanging Gardener
      | Reply

      Hi Pam, I’ve trimmed mine in the spring and they have come back. I’d say start by pruning down may 1/5 the first year and see what happens.

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