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The Wet-Footed Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis), a Sustaining and Tasty Shrub for Moths

Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) is a shrub that grows on the shores of lakes, ponds, streams and in swamps. It is the host plant for three species of moths and a nectar source for other insects and the fruits are a food source for birds. The white to yellowish ball-like flowers appear in the summer and the fruit in the fall. This plant can be purchased in the McMullen House Bed & Breakfast Garden Shop.

Taxonomy and History of Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis)

Herbarium specimen of buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis).
Herbarium Specimen — Cephalanthus occidentalis L. collected in United States of America by The New York Botanical Garden (licensed under CC BY 4.0)


Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) was described by Carl Von Linnaeus, in 1753 in Species Plantarum. This plant is a member of the Madder Family (Rubiaceae).

Buttonbush Description and Alternative Names

White flowers of buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) at a pond edge.
Flowers of Buttonbush — Psamson at English Wikipedia, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


Buttonbush is a shrub or small tree that can grow up to 20 feet tall. The opposite, whorled, ovate, simple, entire leaves range from more than 6 inches in length and 1-3 inches in width.

Alternative Names

This plant is also known as Button-Willow and Honey Bells.

Range and Habitat

Swamp Habitat in Europe.
Swamp Habitat — Ina Hensel (, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons


Range of Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) in the United States and Canada.

This species is found throughout the United States, except for the northwest and northern midwest.


This shrub grows in moist places on the shores of lakes, ponds, streams, swamps, and in pocosins.

Insects and Other Wildlife it Supports

Titan Sphinx (Aellopos titan) at purple flower.
Titan Sphinx — Charles J. Sharp, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Mallard duck on water.
Mallard Duck — Håkon Helberg hakonbrakon, CC0 1.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Host Species

This plant is a host to Hydrangea Sphinx (Darapsa versicolor), Titan Sphinx (Aellopos titan), and the Royal Walnut Moth (Citheronia regalis).

Other Wildlife Value

The flowers are used as a nectar source by other butterflies, bees, and insects and the fruits a food source for birds and mammals.

Interesting Facts

Buttonbush can be used as a honey plant by bees. The genus name, Cephalanthus, comes from the Greek words for “head” and “flower.” (Missouri Botanical Garden).

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