Nature produces some interesting shapes and this is very true for the flower of the buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis).
Common buttonbush (or buttonwillow) produces these crazy looking little spiky ball-like blooms of compound florets. They’re pretty cool, actually, and both bees and butterflies agree.
I caught this skipper butterfly feeding on a buttonbush flower while hiking in Choctaw Lake Recreation Area in the Tombigbee National Forest recently.
Native to the continental U.S., buttonbush is perfect for planting in those spots of wet soil in your garden where nothing else seems to want to grow. It is commonly found along stream edges or in moist soils along ditches and swamps, but this adaptable shrub will grow in most conditions. If you take the care to get it established, it can grow in dry soil or even in standing water.
Bloom time is generally spring to summer and the flowers will produce a cluster of tiny reddish fruit in fall. The leaves produce nice fall color, turning red as the weather changes.
This shrub can grow to be as tall as 10 feet and almost equally as wide. If you want a smaller shrub, you can obtain that by consistent trimming. Buttonbush produces multiple branches, which gives it a nice, full shape. The leaves are ovate to lanceolate in shape and are oppositely arranged on arcing branches.
Wildlife Value of Buttonbush
Buttonbush flowers provide nectar for bees and butterflies. Ducks and other waterfowl feed on its seeds and use the shrub for cover. Deer will feed on the new growth of buttonbush.
The leaves contain a chemical that is toxic if ingested, so be sure not to plant it around livestock or in a location where it might be ingested by animals or children.