Illustration of buttonbush leaves, flowers, fruits.
Scientific Name
Cephalanthus occidentalis
Rubiaceae (madders)

Buttonbush is a large multistemmed shrub or small tree, growing in low areas, often swollen at the base.

Leaves are opposite but more commonly in whorls of 3, blades 2–8 inches long, oval or lance-shaped, tip pointed, margin lacking teeth; dark green, smooth above, paler with a few hairs along veins beneath. Leaf stalk smooth and stout.

Bark is thin, gray to brown, later with flattened ridges and deep grooves.

Twigs are dark reddish-brown to gray-brown, shiny, smooth.

Flowers June–September, in fragrant, ball-shaped clusters 1–1½ inches wide, on stalks 1–3 inches long; individual flowers minute, 4-petaled, white, with protruding styles. The floral clusters arise from upper leaf axils and at stem tips.

Fruits September–October, a round cluster of reddish-brown, dry, pyramidal nutlets. Pods remain for some time before splitting open.

Height: to 18 feet.
Where To Find
image of Buttonbush Distribution Map
Occurs in borders of lakes, rivers, sloughs, swamps, sinkhole ponds, river bottoms, and low, wet woods. Always found near water; often found in thickets, which can be impenetrable.
Buttonbush is frequently planted as an ornamental. Its thickets can be planted to protect lakeshores from erosion. Native Americans had several medicinal uses for this plant, using it as an emetic, laxative, tonic, and pain reliever. White settlers used buttonbush medicinally, too.
The nutlets are eaten by many types of birds, especially water birds, including wood ducks, and pheasants. The fragrant flowers are a favorite nectar source for honeybees. Song sparrows, red-winged blackbirds, and other birds nest in this shrub. Animals may be poisoned by eating the leaves.
Media Gallery
Similar Species

Where to See Species

Cape LaCroix Bluffs CA is a 63.21 acre area situated in northern Scott County in close proximity to the Diversion Channel and the Southeast Missouri Port Authority. 
Logan Creek Conservation Area lies south of Black River and north of Current River. Access can be achieved from Route F, Route Y, and Highway106.
This 379-acre area consists mostly of bottomlands associated with Honey Creek, which empties into the Mississippi River. Approximately 38 acres are marshland.
About Trees, Shrubs and Woody Vines in Missouri
There are no sharp dividing lines between trees, shrubs, and woody vines, or even between woody and nonwoody plants. “Wood” is a type of tissue made of cellulose and lignin that many plants develop as they mature — whether they are “woody” or not. Trees are woody plants over 13 feet tall with a single trunk. Shrubs are less than 13 feet tall, with multiple stems. Vines require support or else sprawl over the ground.