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Publication #ENH338

Conocarpus erectus: Buttonwood1

Edward F. Gilman, Dennis G. Watson, Ryan W. Klein, Andrew K. Koeser, Deborah R. Hilbert, and Drew C. McLean2

Introduction

This low-branching, multi-trunked, shrubby, evergreen tree has glaucous medium-green leaves. The inconspicuous, small, greenish flowers appear in dense cone-like heads in terminal panicles in spring and are followed by 1/2-inch, cone-like, 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. 

Full Form—Conocarpus erectus: Buttonwood


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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 (Figure 2)

Origin: native to Florida, the Caribbean, and South America

UF/IFAS Invasive Assessment Status: native

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

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

Leaf type: simple

Leaf margin: entire

Leaf shape: lanceolate, oblong

Leaf venation: pinnate

Leaf type and persistence: evergreen

Leaf blade length: 1 to 4 inches

Leaf color: dark green and smooth

Fall color: no color change

Fall characteristic: not showy

Figure 3. 

Leaf—Conocarpus erectus: Buttonwood


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Flower

Flower color: green

Flower characteristics: not showy; emerge in clusters on round, compact heads that are arranged on branched panicles

Flowering: spring to early fall

Figure 4. 

Flower—Conocarpus erectus: Buttonwood


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Fruit

Fruit shape: round

Fruit length: ½ inch

Fruit covering: dry or hard

Fruit color: purple-brown, red

Fruit characteristics: does not attract wildlife; showy; fruit/leaves not a litter problem

Fruiting: year-round

Figure 5. 

Fruit—Conocarpus erectus: Buttonwood


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Trunk and Branches

Trunk/branches: branches droop; showy; typically multi-trunked; no thorns

Bark: gray and smooth, becoming scaly, fissured, and darker with age

Pruning requirement: needed for strong structure

Breakage: resistant

Current year twig color: green

Current year twig thickness: thin

Wood specific gravity: unknown

Figure 6. 

Bark—Conocarpus erectus: Buttonwood


Credit:

Gritta Hasing


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Culture

Light requirement: full sun

Soil tolerances: clay; sand; loam; alkaline; acidic; 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.

Reference

Koeser, A. K., Hasing, G., Friedman, M. H., and Irving, R. B. 2015. Trees: North & Central Florida. Gainesville: University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

Footnotes

1.

This document is ENH338, one of a series of the Environmental Horticulture Department, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publication date November 1993. Revised December 2018. Visit the EDIS website at https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu for the currently supported version of this publication.

2.

Edward F. Gilman, professor emeritus, Environmental Horticulture Department; Dennis G. Watson, former associate professor, Agricultural Engineering Department; Ryan W. Klein, graduate assistant, Environmental Horticulture Department; Andrew K. Koeser, assistant professor, Environmental Horticulture Department, UF/IFAS Gulf Coast Research and Education Center; Deborah R. Hilbert, graduate assistant, Environmental Horticulture Department, GCREC; and Drew C. McLean, biological scientist, Environmental Horticulture Department, GCREC; 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.