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Publication #ENH338

Conocarpus erectus: Buttonwood1

Edward F. Gilman and Dennis G. Watson2

Introduction

This low-branching, multi-trunked, shrubby, evergreen tree has glaucous medium-green leaves. The inconspicuous, small, greenish flowers appear in dense conelike heads in terminal panicles in spring and are followed by 1/2-inch, conelike, red-brown fruits. The dark brown attractive bark is ridged and scaly. The tree is 'clean' with small leaves which fall between the grass blades of the lawn or are easily washed away in the rain.

Figure 1. 

Mature Conocarpus erectus: buttonwood


Credit:

Ed Gilman, UF/IFAS


[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

General Information

Scientific name: Conocarpus erectus
Pronunciation: kawn-oh-KAR-pus ee-RECK-tus
Common name(s): Buttonwood
Family: Combretaceae
USDA hardiness zones: 10B through 11 (Fig. 2)
Origin: native to North America
Invasive potential: little invasive potential
Uses: specimen; street without sidewalk; screen; deck or patio; hedge; reclamation; parking lot island < 100 sq ft; parking lot island 100–200 sq ft; parking lot island > 200 sq ft; sidewalk cutout (tree pit); tree lawn 3–4 feet wide; tree lawn 4–6 feet wide; tree lawn > 6 ft wide; urban tolerant; highway median; bonsai; shade
Availability: not native to North America

Figure 2. 

Range


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Description

Height: 30 to 45 feet
Spread: 20 to 30 feet
Crown uniformity: symmetrical
Crown shape: vase, spreading
Crown density: moderate
Growth rate: moderate
Texture: fine

Foliage

Leaf arrangement: alternate (Fig. 3)
Leaf type: simple
Leaf margin: entire
Leaf shape: lanceolate, oblong
Leaf venation: pinnate
Leaf type and persistence: evergreen
Leaf blade length: 2 to 4 inches, 4 to 8 inches
Leaf color: green
Fall color: no color change
Fall characteristic: not showy

Figure 3. 

Foliage


[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Flower

Flower color: white/cream/gray, purple
Flower characteristics: not showy

Fruit

Fruit shape: oval
Fruit length: less than .5 inch
Fruit covering: dry or hard
Fruit color: brown, red
Fruit characteristics: does not attract wildlife; showy; fruit/leaves not a litter problem

Trunk and Branches

Trunk/bark/branches: branches droop; showy; typically multi-trunked; thorns
Pruning requirement: needed for strong structure
Breakage: resistant
Current year twig color: green
Current year twig thickness: thin
Wood specific gravity: unknown

Culture

Light requirement: full sun
Soil tolerances: clay; sand; loam; alkaline; acidic; occasionally wet; well-drained
Drought tolerance: high
Aerosol salt tolerance: high

Other

Roots: not a problem
Winter interest: no
Outstanding tree: no
Ozone sensitivity: unknown
Verticillium wilt susceptibility: unknown
Pest resistance: free of serious pests and diseases

Use and Management

Capable of reaching a height of 40 feet with a 20-foot spread, buttonwood is often seen as a small, somewhat asymmetrical shrub but is ideal for use as a screen, clipped hedge, or specimen planting. The species is less common and grows taller than the silver buttonwood. Due to the attractive bark and soft foliage, a multi-stemmed specimen can make a nice patio or street tree. Planted in the open as a tree, buttonwood will grow to about 20 to 25 feet tall and wide, and will often take on a picturesque, contorted appearance when exposed to constant seashore winds, creating an attractive specimen. The crown is more symmetrical 1/2 mile or more from the coast or on the inland side of a tall ocean-front building. The wood of buttonwood was formerly used for firewood, cabinetwork, and charcoal making and is very strong. It is an ideal wood for smoking meats and fish. Included or embedded bark often develops in major branch crotches, but the strong wood appears to compensate for this potential defect. Trees are tough and long-lasting in the landscape.

A Florida native, buttonwood is ideal for seaside plantings as it is highly tolerant of full sun, sandy soils, and salty conditions. It also tolerates brackish areas and alkaline soils, thriving in the broken shade and wet soils of hammocks. This is a tough tree! It withstands the rigors of urban conditions very well and makes a durable street or parking lot tree. Due to its small size, plant on 15-foot centers to form a closed canopy along a street. Purchase single-trunked trees for street and parking lot plantings.

The cultivar 'Mombo' has a dense crown and may be smaller than the species, 15 to 20 feet tall.

Pests

Sucking insect secretions will result in problems with sooty mold on trees inland from the coast.

Diseases

No diseases are of major concern.

Footnotes

1.

This document is ENH338, one of a series of the Environmental Horticulture Department, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publication date November 1993. Reviewed May 2014. Visit the EDIS website at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu.

2.

Edward F. Gilman, professor, Environmental Horticulture Department; Dennis G. Watson, former associate professor, Agricultural Engineering Department, UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville FL 32611.


The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.