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.

A Whole Lot Going On Now


ramp; wild leek
Allium tricoccum


Thursday morning I was able to get out for a few hours of hiking along the Billy Goat C trail. Along the trail itself, just a few things were blooming: honewort (past its prime), white avens, ramps. Lots of stinging nettle. Down in the river, water willow was just starting to open, and along the canal there was some tall meadow rue.

I braved poison ivy and a lot of flood detritus to get out to my favorite peninsula, the one with a pond in the middle, and that’s where the wildflower show was:

  • nodding onion
  • American germander
  • common arrowhead
  • buttonbush
  • joe pye weed (buds)
  • common milkweed
  • swamp milkweed
  • seedbox
  • fleabane
  • fringed loosestrife
  • horse nettle
  • wild potato vine
  • water speedwell (new to me!)
  • trumpet creeper
  • white vervain
  • blue vervain



nodding onion
Allium cernuum


Also, I found another stand of blue false indigo, past bloom of course but with big seedpods. This is a good find that I’ll be reporting to the Maryland DNR, since it’s a listed species (S2/Threatened).

There were invasive aliens, of course, mostly common St. Johnswort and a mustard species. A small stand of plants with pretty purple spikes is probably purple loosestrife, a particularly aggressive alien. It was growing amid buttonbush and halberd-leaved rosemallow (not yet blooming) right at the pond’s edge.

There were two other species, but as they’re particular favorites and since I think I got some good pictures, I’ll save them for more detailed posts in the next few days.



Cephalanthus occidentalis