Crow’s Nest plants we love: Buttonbush

July 24, 2016

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager


A favorite plant here on the preserve is buttonbush, Cephalanthus occidentalis. It’s ball-shaped flower clusters are striking and their nectar is very popular with pollinators.

(I’ve written about my love of this plant before, here in 2012 and here in 2013.)

According to Doug Tallamy in Bringing Nature Home (Timber Press, 2007) buttonbush is larval host to 18 species of Lepidoptera in our region including etherial promethean moth (Callosamia promethea), hydrangea sphinx (Darapsa versicolor), and saddleback caterpillar (Acharia stimulea), [pp. 96-98].

A lot of our wildlife gardening is based on “plant it and they will come.” Buttonbush is a better choice than the non-native “butterfly bush” (Buddleja davidii) because although the latter attracts adult butterflies, its foliage does not support any species of North American butterfly larvae [p. 95]. Caterpillars only survive on the host species to which they are adapted.

Buttonbush prefers wet sites and is best planted at the back or in the middle of a butterfly garden. It has an irregular shape that is not suited to a formal landscape. But its beauty includes not just its pretty flowers, but the “flying flowers” they attract.

As natural areas have been replaced by houses, lawns, and non-native ornamental plants, habitat for butterflies has been lost. “To have butterflies in our future,” Tallamy writes, “we need to replace those lost host plants, no if’s, and’s or but’s.” [p. 95].