Texas Natives – October, 2007
During summer heat and drought, buttonbush (Celphalanthus occidentalis) produces nectar-rich flowers in abundance for insect pollinators. This large shrub is native to the southwest U.S. from New Mexico eastward to Florida, but ranges north to Canada. Primarily found along stream banks and in shallow water edges, it is adapted to much drier soil conditions. The new flower buds resemble small green buttons, hence the common name. It is also known as swampwood, button-willow, little-snowball, pinball and crouper-bush.
Buttonbush can grow to 18 feet, but usually sustains a height of 10 feet with an equal spread. Keeping it pruned as a small tree exposes attractive fissured bark, encourages new growth and increases flower production. Buttonbush can be planted in full sun to partial shade in any soil type: sand, clay, loam or limestone. The large, cream-colored globose flowerheads appear from May through September and are particularly favored by swallowtail butterflies and bees. A deciduous plant of unremarkable fall color, the bark texture and shape of buttonbush during the winter months adds seasonal interest.
While easy to root from stem or root cuttings, seed germination rates are poor. The seed is eaten by 25 species of birds, so leave the seeds for them. Stem cuttings taken in late July to early August root successfully in damp sand or peat within four weeks.
Texas Discovery Gardens will have buttonbush for sale at the 4th Annual Butterfly Plant Sale, Sat., June 3, 10a.m. – 2p.m.
Visit www.texasdiscoverygardens.org for a list of plants available at the sale.
About the author: Tina Dombrowski is the Director of Horticulture at Texas Discovery Gardens at Fair Park, Dallas. She has a particular interest in Texas native plants, butterflies, pollinating insects and their interconnected histories. Visit www.texasdiscoverygardens.org for more.