Name: Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis)
Also known as: Common Buttonbush, Eastern Buttonbush, Button Willow, and Honeyballs
Spiky ping pong balls, pincushions, honeyballs, and snowballs – all words used to describe the very distinct flower head of the Buttonbush shrub. Buttonbush is a multi-stemmed shrub that commonly grows 6-12 feet in height but can sometimes be found much taller. Its leaves are dark green, which are oppositely arranged along its stems, and have pointed tips and tapered bases that extend 2-6 inches in length. Most notable of all are their round, tubular flower heads. Each flower head is about an inch in diameter and is made up of a bunch of tiny, white, 4-petaled flowers. The flowers are rich in nectar and attract many pollinators with their honey-smelling fragrance. Blooming occurs between June and September and each flower head will bloom for approximately a week before dying off and turning into a brown seed cluster full of upside-down, pyramid-shaped seeds. Ducks, geese, and shorebirds love to snack on Buttonbush seeds, while songbirds use the shrubbery for nesting sites.
Some people may not be familiar with Buttonbush and that is most likely because of its choice of habitat. Buttonbush is a lover of wet soils and water. It prefers to grow in wetlands, waterbody margins, and shallow standing water. It is quite tolerant of flooding conditions and can grow in up to 3 feet of water. Its Canadian range extends from Ontario to Nova Scotia (see Figure 1).
Fun Fact: Ever heard of the phrase “cute as a button”? Well that’s where Buttonbush got its name…just kidding! It’s actually named after, quite literally, its flower head. Cephalanthus comes from the Greek words kaphale and anthos, meaning “head” and “flower”, respectively.
Figure 1: North American range of Buttonbush (http://ontariotrees.com/main/species.php?id=2025#RangeMap).