Buttonbush Shrubs: How To Grow, Plant and Identify 7 Types of Buttonbush Trees

Georgette Kilgore headshot, wearing 8 Billion Trees shirt with forest in the background.Written by Georgette Kilgore

Gardening | March 28, 2024

Woman examines a buttonbush shrub flower after learning how to care for and plant 7 types of buttonbush trees to support pollinators as well as button bush growing zones and planting tips.

Ornamental and environmentally beneficial, the Buttonbush is a popular landscaping tree in areas where the soil retains too much moisture.

This valuable plant is an excellent source of food for honey bees, moths, other pollinators and waterfowl and you can easily recognize it if you know what to look for.

Understanding how to care for and grow Buttonbush shrubs,8 as well as how to identify this type of tree is the perfect start to building your own outdoor ecosystem that supports a host of wildlife.

Planting Tips for Buttonbush: Growing a Buttonbush From a Seed, Cutting, Seedling

You can grow a buttonbush from seed by sewing it directly into moist soil. Collect seeds in the fall after they have turned brown.

To grow a buttonbush from a cutting, remove a four to six-inch shoot of new growth from the shrub.

Dip the cut end into the rooting hormone and insert the cutting into the soil. Maintain moist soil conditions.

Seedlings are juvenile shrubs with established root growth. You can buy them or start your own using the methods above.

Place seedlings directly into the soil. Keep nearby weed and grass growth to a minimum to reduce nutrient competition.

Best Growing Conditions for Buttonbush

Buttonbush shrubs do well alongside swamps, ponds, and anywhere where wet soil won’t be an issue. They require bright sunlight for a better yield of flowers.

Graphics with illustration and text showing the best growing conditions for buttonbush such as bright sunlight, wet and PH neutral soil.

They can tolerate acidic soils but do best in soils with a neutral pH level. They do not do well in alkaline soils.10

Buttonbush Growing Zone

Ideal growing zones, where to grow them, and plant them for the best yield will have marshy areas.

The eastern and southern coasts have planting zones with enough wetlands to satisfy the watering needs for button bushes.

Buttonbushes have been known to thrive in flood zones, however, they will not survive areas in which the soil dries out.

Buttonbush Growth Rate

If you’re wondering how long does it take for a tree to grow, these are moderately fast-growing plants, gaining 12 inches per year.

Buttonbush growth rate graphic showing how Buttonbush grows 12 inches annually and can grow 6 to 8 feet tall and wide.

They will have many branches and tend to form dense thickets.11

What Are Some Types of Companion Plants for Growing Buttonbush?

Swamp milkweed, cat tails, and Royal fern are shorter varieties4 that thrive in wet environments. American elm, white ash, and red maple are taller species that complement the shorter shrub.

To build groupings of these flowering shrubs, four to six feet is how far apart to plant buttonbushes.5

How To Stop Buttonbush Disease

Buttonbush disease prevention requires minimal effort since threats to these shrubs are low. The most common pests of the bush are beetles and chewing insects.

Use organic insecticides as a natural pest control option or prune away damaged leaves.


(Cephalanthus occidentalis)

Buttonbush image in oval frame on green background.
  • Family: Rubiceae (Madder)
  • Genus: Cephalanthus
  • Leaf: Shiny, dark green leaves that are long, narrow, and pointy
  • Bark: Gray, grooved texture
  • Seed: Round, nutlet variety
  • Blossoms: Round, fragrant, white blooms with tubular coverings, roughly an inch and a half wide
  • Fruit: Small, round, reddish color
  • Native Habitat: Lower 48 states of North America, wet and marshlands
  • Height: Five to eight feet depending on the variety
  • Canopy: Generally 6 feet wide
  • Type: Deciduous
  • Native Growing Zone: Zones 5–11

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species Ranking

Least Concern


Image Credit: Psamson13

How To Identify Buttonbush

The Buttonbush is a mid-sized shrub, displaying seasonal white, pincushion-like blooms. It is native to most of the territories in the U.S. and is deemed to have a Least Concern conservation status.7

During the spring, the bush blends in with surrounding shrubbery and is overlooked as its main features appear in mid-summer and early fall.

The trunks of the shrubs appear swollen at ground level and tend to twist as they grow. The bark is deeply grooved and gray.1

Identifying Buttonbush Leaves

Its leaves are roughly seven inches long and three inches wide. They grow alternately along the branch.

Appearing in May, the leaves are glossy dark green with a dull underside.

The leaves are poisonous if ingested.10 They contain a chemical called cephalothin which will induce vomiting and paralysis if ingested.

Identifying Buttonbush Flower

Appearing between June and September,9 blooms grow in small, compact clusters at the ends of the branches. They are white and fragrant, full of nectar, and are vital for tree pollination.

Graphics showing how to identify buttonbush, with images of a full grown Buttonbush plant, Buttonbush leaves, Buttonbush flower, and Buttonbush seed along with the US map illustrating its growing zones, on a green background.

(Seeds Image by: sonnia hill12)

Clusters contain multiple blooms, and from each petal cluster, a long pistil extrudes, giving the appearance of a pin cushion.

Identifying Buttonbush Seeds

Throughout fall, button flowers give way to small hardened red seed balls. They last all through winter and are a food source for waterfowl.

Five Types of Cephalanthus Flower Bush Varieties

Here are 5 types of Buttonbush shrub and cultivars.

#1. Common Buttonbush, also known as the Buck Brush is native to North America. It can grow to 12 feet tall, eight feet wide, with white flowers.
New growth is green and leaves remain green throughout summer.

#2. The Sugar Shack Buttonbush is a dwarf variety and a food source for the Titan Sphinx moth caterpillar. It is compact, only reaching three or four feet high with a similar diameter.
Unlike the Common bush, the Sugar Shack’s spring foliage has a reddish tint.

#3. Select A: Dark Green, called the Ping Pong™ variety,11 is more rounded than the common variety, averaging eight feet in height with an equal canopy width.

#4. The Kolmoon, or Magical Moonlight, reaches five to eight feet tall and has a branch span of four or six feet.

#5. The Bailoptics, commonly referred to as Fiber Optics, reach five feet tall with a matching diameter. New growth is reddish, instead of green.

Tall Types of Buttonbush Tree

As trees, they can grow much larger.

#6. The Beiberich, also called Sputnik, grows 10 to 15 feet tall. Its canopy is wider, between 10 and 12 feet, and blooms bright pink flowers.

Unlike the common variety, its leaves turn to a copper orange in the fall.

#7. The Keystone variety is fast-growing and dense, reaching between eight to twelve feet tall and nearly eight feet wide.

Cephalanthus occidentalis: Buttonbush Facts

The scientific name for buttonbush is taken from the Greek words for head, kephalḗ, and flower, anthos.2 Occidentalis means western in Latin.3

Other names include the Buttonball, Button Willow, and the Riverbush.6

Low maintenance and ideal for wet, troublesome locations, the Buttonbush provides great land coverage, aids in soil retention, and adds just a touch of whimsy to any garden.

Frequently Asked Questions About Buttonbush

How Long It Takes To Grow Buttonbush?

With a moist environment and ample sunlight, cuttings and seedlings can develop a strong root system within a few weeks. Afterward, they grow an estimated of a foot every year.

How Much Sunlight Does Buttonbush Need Each Day?

At least six to eight hours of full bright sunshine per day. It will grow in the shade but with fewer blooms.

When To Plant Buttonbush for the Best Yield?

Plant them in spring to allow the shrub to establish a strong root system. You might not see any blooms for the first year or two as the shrub focuses energy on growing but using a slow-release fertilizer can encourage the plant to produce more blooms and have greater seed production.10


1Florida WIldflower Foundation, & TWC Staff. (2023, May 15). Cephalanthus occidentalis. Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. Retrieved December 14, 2023, from <https://www.wildflower.org/plants/result.php?id_plant=ceoc2>

2Wikipedia. (2023, October 26). Cephalanthus. Wikipedia. Retrieved December 14, 2023, from <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cephalanthus>

3O’Dell, K. (2023). Cephalanthus occidentalis. Native Gardens of Blue Hill. Retrieved December 14, 2023, from <https://plants.nativemainegardens.org/plants/cephalanthus-occidentalis/>

4Gardenia.net. (2023). Cephalanthus Occidentalis (Button Bush). Gardenia. Retrieved December 14, 2023, from <https://www.gardenia.net/plant/cephalanthus-occidentalis>

5Kansas Forest Service. (2023, September 19). Button Bush. Kansas Forest Service. Retrieved December 14, 2023, from <https://www.kansasforests.org/conservation_trees/products/shrubs/buttonbush.html>

6Snyder, S. A. (2018, March 1). SPECIES: Cephalanthus occidentalis. USDA Forest Service | Fire Effects Information System (FEIS). Retrieved December 21, 2023, from <https://www.fs.usda.gov/database/feis/plants/shrub/cepocc/all.html>

7International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. (2015, June 17). Cephalanthus occidentalis. IUCN Red List. Retrieved December 21, 2023, from <https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/64310261/174152591>

8Wennerberg, S., & USDA NRCS National Plant Data Center. (2006, August 8). COMMON BUTTONBUSH – Cephalanthus occidentalis L. USDA Plants Database. Retrieved December 21, 2023, from <https://plants.usda.gov/DocumentLibrary/plantguide/pdf/pg_ceoc2.pdf>

9N.C. Cooperative Extension. (2023). Cephalanthus occidentalis. North Carolina Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox. Retrieved December 21, 2023, from <https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/cephalanthus-occidentalis/>

10Outdoor Learning Lab. (2023). Common buttonbush. Outdoor Learning Lab. Retrieved December 21, 2023, from <https://www.gcc.mass.edu/oll/plants/common-buttonbush/>

11Polomski, R. F., & Feder, B. H. (2020, January 6). Common Buttonbush. HGIC Clemson Cooperative Extension. Retrieved December 21, 2023, from <https://hgic.clemson.edu/factsheet/common-buttonbush/>

12Cephalanthus occidentalis Photo by sonnia hill. (2019, December 8) / Attribution 2.0 Generic. Cropped and remixed with other images, graphics and text. Flickr. Retrieved December 15, 2023, from <https://www.flickr.com/photos/carthamus/49189481728/>

13Cephalanthus occidentalis Species Card Image by Psamson at English Wikipedia. (2006, August 11) / Public domain. Cropped and remixed with graphics and text. Wikimedia Commons. Retrieved December 15, 2023, from <https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cephalanthus_occidentalis_2.JPG>