~ Plant Highlight ~
Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) is a deciduous shrub native to the eastern half of the U.S. It can be found growing naturally along creeks, ponds, lakes, and other fairly wet areas. Buttonbush can also be grown as a native ornamental in mostly sunny areas where the soil is on the moist side of medium to wet. This is one plant that doesn’t mind having its feet wet for a good portion of the year.
As a shrub, buttonbush typically grows to between 5 and 10 feet tall. If left to grow naturally, it will often take on a multi-stemmed nature and can have a 5 to 6 foot spread. As an ornamental, it can often be trimmed to take on a “neater” appearance if desired. The leaves have been reported as toxic to livestock and many mammals, so planting it in a pasture may not be a wise idea.
In Kentucky, buttonbush typically blooms from late June or early July through at least late August and sometimes slightly later. The flowers are dense balls of white flowers that produce a pleasant, sweet smell. It will flower more in sunnier areas than in shadier areas. After buttonbush is done blooming, it produces clusters of seeds that are highly attractive to waterfowl and other birds.
Pollinators absolutely love buttonbush. Numerous butterflies including painted ladies, skippers, hoary edge butterflies, swallowtails, monarchs and fritillaries will drink nectar from the flowers. Honey bees and lots of different kinds of native bees will also eagerly visit the flowers. This is good news for beekeepers who are always looking for plants, especially shrubs or trees, which bloom during this time period and that are attractive to honey bees. Buttonbush is also a host plant for the titan sphinx moth, the hydrangea sphinx moth, and the royal walnut moth.
If you want to plant for pollinators and have space for a good-sized shrub in a sunny, semi-moist to wet area, then buttonbush is one to seriously consider planting. Many nurseries focusing on native plants and plants for pollinators, including my nursery, carry it. Buttonbush is definitely high on my list of favorite plants for pollinators and other wildlife.
Shannon Trimboli is a beekeeper, farmer, wildlife biologist, and author. She owns Grassy Roads Farm and Busy Bee Nursery & Consulting. Busy Bee Nursery & Consulting specializes in plants and habitat consulting services for honey bees, native pollinators, and wildlife conservation. In 2018, her first book, Plants Honey Bees Use in the Ohio and Tennessee Valleys, was published. Shannon also writes a weekly blog called Kentucky Pollinators and Backyard Wildlife. The blog features profiles of pollinators and wildlife, tips for attracting pollinators and wildlife, highlights of different plants for pollinators and wildlife, and life on the farm and nursery. You can sign up to have her blog emailed to you.