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Buttonbush Cephalanthus occidentalis

Previously known as:

  • Cephalanthus occidentalis var. californicus
  • Cephalanthus occidentalis var. pubescens
Phonetic Spelling
sef-ah-LAN-thus ock-sih-den-TAH-liss
Description

Buttonbush is a deciduous shrub that is native to much of the USA and is found in all areas of NC. It can grow as a tree up to 20 feet but is usually a small shrub up to 12 feet tall and 8 feet wide. It is adapted to shorelines and swamps with saturated soil and full sunlight and will tolerate water depths up to three feet. It also does well in streambanks, riverbanks, lakes, and often in standing water. Flowering is poor in the shade or in dry soils. It is multi-stemmed with a rounded to irregular crown and needs little pruning. 

In June- Sept. small, fragrant, white, tubular flowers occur in round clusters that have protruding styles giving it a pincushion-like effect. The fruits are reddish-brown, showy and persist into winter. It has exceptional wildlife benefits attracting many types of pollinators, waterfowl, birds and mammals. This plant has a dwarf cultivar available and both do best in natural areas.

This shrub can be used for erosion control on wet sites. It needs consistently moist to wet rich soils in sun to part sun. It is adaptable to various soil types except for dry ones. Use in a rain or water garden, around a pond or along streams and boggy areas with poor drainage. This plant is tolerant to heat and soil compaction.

 

 VIDEO Created by Elizabeth Meyer for "Trees, Shrubs and Conifers" a plant identification course offered in partnership with Longwood Gardens.

Profile Video:
See this plant in the following landscape:
Cultivars / Varieties:
  • ‘Keystone’
    Increased vigor and more flowers
‘Keystone’
Tags:
#bees#fragrant#hummingbirds#deciduous#fall color#water garden#rain garden#heat tolerant#fall flowers#white flowers#wildlife plant#showy#yellow flowers#native shrub#riparian#tsc#ducks#fall interest#wetlands#erosion control#wet sites#food source#low flammability#NC native#deer resistant#swamps#ponds#fire resistant#pollinator plant#compaction tolerant#dendrology#NC Native Pollinator Plant#late summer flowers#Coastal OBL#food source nectar#food source pollen#coastal FAC#Piedmont Mountains FAC#Piedmont Mountains OBL#bird friendly#food source hard mast fruit#mammals#butterfly friendly#butterflies#pollinators#tsc-s#pollinator garden#birds#food source soft mast fuit#audubon
 
Cultivars / Varieties:
  • ‘Keystone’
    Increased vigor and more flowers
‘Keystone’
Tags:
#bees#fragrant#hummingbirds#deciduous#fall color#water garden#rain garden#heat tolerant#fall flowers#white flowers#wildlife plant#showy#yellow flowers#native shrub#riparian#tsc#ducks#fall interest#wetlands#erosion control#wet sites#food source#low flammability#NC native#deer resistant#swamps#ponds#fire resistant#pollinator plant#compaction tolerant#dendrology#NC Native Pollinator Plant#late summer flowers#Coastal OBL#food source nectar#food source pollen#coastal FAC#Piedmont Mountains FAC#Piedmont Mountains OBL#bird friendly#food source hard mast fruit#mammals#butterfly friendly#butterflies#pollinators#tsc-s#pollinator garden#birds#food source soft mast fuit#audubon
  • Attributes:
    Genus:
    Cephalanthus
    Species:
    occidentalis
    Family:
    Rubiaceae
    Life Cycle:
    Woody
    Recommended Propagation Strategy:
    Seed
    Stem Cutting
    Country Or Region Of Origin:
    East Canada, U.S.A to Central America, Cuba
    Distribution:
    USA: AL , AR , AZ , CA , CT , DC , DE , FL , GA , IA , IL , IN , KS , KY , LA , MA , MD , ME , MI , MN , MO , MS , NC , NE , NH , NJ , NY , OH , OK , PA , RI , SC , TN , TX , VA , VT , WI , WV Canada: NB , NS , ON , PE , QC
    Fire Risk Rating:
    low flammability
    Wildlife Value:
    Flowers are attractive to hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees. Songbirds and waterfowl eat seeds. Moderately deer resistant.
    Play Value:
    Attracts Pollinators
    Wildlife Cover/Habitat
    Wildlife Food Source
    Wildlife Larval Host
    Dimensions:
    Height: 5 ft. 0 in. - 8 ft. 0 in.
    Width: 3 ft. 0 in. - 6 ft. 0 in.
  • Whole Plant Traits:
    Plant Type:
    Native Plant
    Shrub
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Deciduous
    Habit/Form:
    Irregular
    Multi-stemmed
    Open
    Rounded
    Growth Rate:
    Medium
    Texture:
    Coarse
  • Cultural Conditions:
    Light:
    Full sun (6 or more hours of direct sunlight a day)
    Partial Shade (Direct sunlight only part of the day, 2-6 hours)
    Soil Texture:
    Clay
    High Organic Matter
    Loam (Silt)
    Sand
    Shallow Rocky
    Soil pH:
    Acid (<6.0)
    Soil Drainage:
    Frequent Standing Water
    Moist
    Occasionally Dry
    Occasionally Wet
    NC Region:
    Coastal
    Mountains
    Piedmont
    USDA Plant Hardiness Zone:
    5a, 5b, 6b, 6a, 7a, 7b, 8a, 8b, 9b, 9a
  • Fruit:
    Fruit Value To Gardener:
    Showy
    Display/Harvest Time:
    Summer
    Fruit Type:
    Capsule
    Fruit Description:
    The flower heads mature into reddish-brown hard spherical ball-like fruits consisting of multiple tiny two-seeded nutlets. Fruits become available August-September. Fruiting heads usually persist throughout the winter.
  • Flowers:
    Flower Color:
    Cream/Tan
    White
    Flower Inflorescence:
    Head
    Flower Value To Gardener:
    Fragrant
    Showy
    Flower Bloom Time:
    Summer
    Flower Shape:
    Tubular
    Flower Petals:
    4-5 petals/rays
    Flower Size:
    < 1 inch
    Flower Description:
    1.5 inch round flower heads are densely packed with tiny fragrant tubular creamy-white flowers. The long projecting styles give it a pincushion-like or starburst effect. Blooms June-August.
  • Leaves:
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Deciduous
    Leaf Color:
    Green
    Leaf Feel:
    Glossy
    Deciduous Leaf Fall Color:
    Gold/Yellow
    Leaf Type:
    Simple
    Leaf Arrangement:
    Opposite
    Whorled
    Leaf Shape:
    Elliptical
    Oblong
    Ovate
    Leaf Margin:
    Entire
    Hairs Present:
    No
    Leaf Length:
    > 6 inches
    Leaf Width:
    1-3 inches
    Leaf Description:
    4-6 inch long and 1-3 inches wide ovate to elliptic bright green leaves are in pairs or threes. The apex is pointed and the base rounded to tapered. The margins are smooth and the upper surface is glossy with the lower surface being duller. Fall color is insignificant yellow.
  • Bark:
    Bark Color:
    Dark Gray
    Surface/Attachment:
    Furrowed
    Bark Description:
    Gray and somewhat peeling, develops furrows with age.
  • Stem:
    Stem Color:
    Brown/Copper
    Green
    Red/Burgundy
    Stem Is Aromatic:
    No
    Stem Description:
    New growth is green to red becoming woody and brown
  • Landscape:
    Landscape Location:
    Meadow
    Pond
    Riparian
    Slope/Bank
    Woodland
    Landscape Theme:
    Native Garden
    Pollinator Garden
    Rain Garden
    Water Garden
    Design Feature:
    Small groups
    Attracts:
    Bees
    Butterflies
    Hummingbirds
    Pollinators
    Small Mammals
    Songbirds
    Resistance To Challenges:
    Compaction
    Deer
    Erosion
    Fire
    Heat
    Wet Soil