Bewitched by Buttonbush

As soon as I finished shooting swamp candles Tuesday morning, I turned my attention to a nearby buttonbush. The sunlight was no longer quite so golden, but it was still making great shadow play among the plants.

Cephalanthus occidentalis (Rubiaceae), also called buttonwillow, honeyball, and pond dogwood, ranges from Nova Scotia and Ontario south to Florida and Texas, and is also found in parts of Arizona and California. There are records of it in every Maryland county except Washington.

The multiple stems of this shrub can grow to about twelve feet tall, and the plant can be 6 feet across or more. Foliage is dense and a pleasing shade of green, and how can you not love that inflorescence?

The flower heads measure about one inch across and bear dozens (hundreds?) of flowers, each of which consists of four fused petals, four stamens, and one very long style.

The flowers attract butterflies and bees, and later in the season the seeds attract birds.

Buttonbush is a wetland obligate, meaning that in natural conditions it will be found in wetlands. But there are quite a few of them on the bedrock terrace, which is a dry place except for seasonal flooding and rains. There isn’t much soil there, and no groundwater.

 

Knowing this, I had assumed it wouldn’t make a good garden plant, but I asked the question on a native plant discussion site and got a lot of encouraging replies. It seems that once established, buttonbush does quite well in drier soils. Hooray! Now I just have to find a place for one in my garden.

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