Shilpa’s Wildflower Highlights » Buttonbush

Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) is an obligate wetland species found at the margins of lakes, ponds, swamps, creeks, in moist, poor drainage and standing waters. The genus name came from two Greek words, “cephalo” meaning “head” and “anthos” meaning “flower”. It is a native species to the eastern and southern United States.

❋ The buttonbush plant is a multi-stemmed shrub. The mature plant can reach the usual height of 6 to 12 ft, sometimes even taller. The leaves are alternate (a pair of two) or whorled (three), ovate to a narrower 2-6 inch long with a pointed tip and smooth margin. The leaf has a glossy dark-green upper surface and a comparatively dull lower surface. They lack any significant fall colors. The leaves also act as larval hosts for some butterflies.

❋ They have very attractive, showy, ornamental, fragrant flowers (too many adjectives, I know!). The tiny tubular fragrant flowers appear in spherical long-stalked flower-heads from June to September. Flower-heads are spherical, creamy white to pinkish. For any biology student, the flower-head surely does look like a “virus”. The flower-heads are also studded with prominent, round-headed pistils all over, making them look like a pincushion. The flower-heads attract many pollinator species including bees, butterflies, other insects, and hummingbirds. The reddish-brown button like balls of fruit persists through the winter. Their seeds provide food to many different species of ducks, shorebirds and some other waterbirds and the twigs are eaten by mammals.

❋ Buttonbush is an extremely useful plant for wetland restoration. However, they are not good colonizers for man-made waterways. They are suitable in created wetland and riparian zones. The bush provides excellent hiding places for many species of waterfowl. The plant is unpalatable for livestock. Although the bitter bark served in home remedies as a laxative and for curing skin and vernal diseases, it has questionable medicinal values. It has been said to contain “cephalathin“, a poison which induces paralysis, convulsions, and vomiting.

July 25th 2018 | by  Shilpa Sen 

Disclaimer: I’m not a wildflower expert.. but being an environmental scientist (professionally) and a #naturalist (by heart), I am passionate about the natural world around me. I use this wildflower series to share my passion with my connections. (All the photographs are taken by me).

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