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Common Buttonbush

Cephalanthus occidentalis


General : Madder Family (Rubiaceae). Common buttonbush is a warm season shrub or small tree that reaches 6 m in height at maturity. Stem bases are swollen. Young twigs are green, 4-sided with elongated lenticels, and turn brown and scaly upon maturation. Leaves are opposite or whorled, lance-shaped, 18 cm long and 7.5 cm wide, glossy dark green, and emerge in May. Flowers are tubular, 4 to 5-lobed, white to reddish, 4 cm across, and form in dense clusters at the ends of the branches. Long styles give flowers a pincushion appearance. The fruit are ball-like and contain 2-seeded nutlets. Common buttonbush blooms in June through September and sets fruit in September and October. Key characteristics of common buttonbush are its pincushion flower heads, elongated lenticels, and swollen stem bases. It is also the only wetland shrub that has whorled leaves and spherical-shaped flowers.


Common buttonbush is a wetland shrub common in swamps, floodplains, marshes, bogs, ditches that are underwater for part of the year, and alluvial plains with intermittent flooding. It is present in riparian and wetland communities and is associated with plants like American beech, red maple, sugar maple, black oak, pin oak, Nyssa species, bald cypress, southern bayberry,and red bay. This one was photographed at Phinizy Swamp Nature Park near Augusta (Richmond County), GA.


It's also known as Button Ball, Button Willow, and Buttonbush. WARNING: Common buttonbush contains the poison Cephalathin. Cephalathin will inducevomiting, paralysis, and convulsions if ingested. Native Americans used common buttonbush medicinally. Decoctions of the bark were used as washes for sore eyes, antidiarrheal agents, anti-inflammation and rheumatism medications, skin astringents, headache and fever relievers, and venereal disease remedies. The bark was also chewed to relieve toothaches. Roots were used for muscle inflammation and as blood medicines.

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Spotted by

Augusta, Georgia, USA

Spotted on Jun 3, 2012
Submitted on Mar 24, 2013


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