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Cephalanthus occidentalis Buttonbush1

Edward F. Gilman 2


Buttonbush has attractive, medium green leaves followed by a late spring flower display unmatched by many plants (Fig. 1). White flowers are borne in a one to one-and-one-half inch diameter globe and fill the canopy when few other plants are in flower. Bright red fruits have formed by late summer to bring the plant back into prominence in the landscape. Most people do not notice the plant until it flowers or displays its fruit.

Figure 1. Buttonbush.
Figure 1.  Buttonbush.

General Information

Scientific name: Cephalanthus occidentalis
Pronunciation: seff-uh-LANTH-us ock-sid-en-TAY-liss
Common name(s): buttonbush
Family: Rubiaceae
Plant type: shrub
USDA hardiness zones: 4 through 10A (Fig. 2)
Planting month for zone 7: year round
Planting month for zone 8: year round
Planting month for zone 9: year round
Planting month for zone 10 and 11: year round
Origin: native to Florida
Uses: specimen; border; mass planting; attracts butterflies
Availability: somewhat available, may have to go out of the region to find the plant

Figure 2. Shaded area represents potential planting range.
Figure 2.  Shaded area represents potential planting range.


Height: 6 to 12 feet
Spread: 6 to 10 feet
Plant habit: round
Plant density: moderate
Growth rate: slow
Texture: medium


Leaf arrangement: whorled
Leaf type: simple
Leaf margin: entire
Leaf shape: ovate
Leaf venation: pinnate
Leaf type and persistence: deciduous
Leaf blade length: 4 to 8 inches
Leaf color: green
Fall color: no fall color change
Fall characteristic: not showy


Flower color: white
Flower characteristic: pleasant fragrance; spring flowering; summer flowering


Fruit shape: round
Fruit length: .5 to 1 inch
Fruit cover: dry or hard
Fruit color: red
Fruit characteristic: showy

Trunk and Branches

Trunk/bark/branches: not particularly showy; typically multi-trunked or clumping stems
Current year stem/twig color: gray/silver
Current year stem/twig thickness: thin


Light requirement: plant grows in part shade/part sun
Soil tolerances: acidic; slightly alkaline; sand; loam; clay
Soil salt tolerances: poor
Plant spacing: 36 to 60 inches


Roots: usually not a problem
Winter interest: no special winter interest
Outstanding plant: not particularly outstanding
Invasive potential: not known to be invasive
Pest resistance: long-term health usually not affected by pests

Use and Management

Most specimens of buttonbush are small, reaching no more than about 4 to 6 feet tall. Older plants can reach to 10 feet tall in a moist site and grow to more than 12 feet wide. Several stems emerge from the ground forming a flat-topped, vase-shaped canopy.

A native shrub best suited for wet sites, buttonbush adapts to landscape sites provided roots are irrigated or kept moist to wet from a nearby stream or pond. Some dieback may occur, especially in the southern part of its range, during moderate or extended drought.

A tea can be made from the inner bark which was used to induce vomiting. Chewing the bark is reported to relieve a toothache.


1. This document is FPS117, one of a series of the Environmental Horticulture Department, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publication date October 1999. Reviewed February 2014. Visit the EDIS website at
2. Edward F. Gilman, professor, Environmental Horticulture Department, UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.

Publication #FPS117

Date: 5/25/2015

      Organism ID


      • Gail Hansen de Chapman