December 15, 2011

Dormant buttonbush plant in backyard garden
Photo by Jessica Walliser
Even the buttonbush seed pods have a distinct look to them.

A good friend gave me an early Christmas present last week. A buttonbush! Cephalanthus occidentalis is a shrub I have always wanted since seeing it at a zoo a few years ago. I read about its benefits to wildlife (butterflies and bees in particular) in Doug Tallamy’s book Bringing Nature Home (Timber Press, 2007).

Buttonbush is a native that I had never seen at any of our local nurseries and figured I would have to buy either online or from a mail-order native nursery. Lucky for me, my friend did manage to find it at a local nursery that never carried it before, and he nabbed it, knowing how much I’ve wanted one. Even though it came to me in its dormant state, I recognized it immediately.

What caught my eye at that zoo a few years back is also the reason I recognized the buttonbush so quickly. It’s also the reason for the plant’s common name. The blooms are 1-inch, perfect little balls of tiny white-flowers clusters. Several blooms occur on the end of each branch. It’s unique, and even the seedpods are interesting.

I haven’t decided yet where in the garden to put my new buttonbush, and I think I’ll wait until spring to situate it in its final destination. In the meantime, I have temporarily healed it into one of the vegetable-garden beds, pot and all. I’ll be thinking long and hard over the coming winter months about where to place it—I want to be able to watch the butterflies and bees enjoying it from my station at the back patio. I have a sneaking suspicion it may become a good excuse to build a brand-new garden bed next spring. Just what I need!

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