Want a native shrub that is a butterfly, bee, hummingbird, and waterfowl magnet that will grow in full sun to part shade and grows best in moist to wet soils? Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) is your answer. This deciduous shrub will reach a height of 6 to 12 feet tall. The one-inch spherical, fragrant white flowers bloom in mid-summer on new wood. The gray bark will develop furrows as the plant ages. The glossy, medium green leaves are 4 inches long and are arranged in a whorled or opposite leaf arrangement. In the fall, the foliage turns yellow.
Buttonbush is an excellent nectar source for many pollinating insects, including numerous species of butterflies, and also hummingbirds. In the fall, the hard ball-shaped fruit provides an excellent food source for twenty-four species of birds, including many songbirds and waterfowl. In addition, buttonbush is deer resistant.
Buttonbush is virtually pest free and an easy-to-grow addition to your landscape. Because this native shrub grows best in humus rich moist soils, you should avoid planting them in dry areas. Blooms are formed on new wood; therefore, prune the shrub while it is dormant in winter or in the early spring before new growth begins. The fibrous root system will help stabilize wet areas that are prone to erosion.
Several cultivars are available, including Sputnik buttonbush (C. occidentalis ‘Bieberich’) and Sugar Shack (C. occidentalis ‘SMCOSS’). Sputnik will mature at 8 to 10 feet high and has a rounded growth habit. Sugar Shack™ is a more compact shrub that reaches a mature height of 3 to 4 feet with red fruit instead of brown. It’s an excellent choice for containers or rain gardens. For more information on pollinator gardening, please see HGIC 1727, Pollinator Gardening and please see HGIC 1052, Planting Shrubs Correctly for information on planting shrubs.