Creating a wildlife haven one plant at a time

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Bodacious Button Bush

Hands down the most popular plant in our garden right now is the button bush. (Cephalanthus occidentalis). Its like grand central station with all the different species of bees, flies, butterflies and other insects arriving and departing from this shrub from morning until night.

painted lady butterfly and bee on button bush
painted lady butterfly with bee on button bush

The flower balls are an excellent source of nectar for a variety of insects come mid-summer.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly on button bush bloom
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

Butterflies of all sizes and families enjoy nectaring on the pincushion flower heads from the smaller skippers to the mid-sized, painted lady and the larger swallowtails.

skipper butterfly on button bush
silver-spotted skipper on button bush
All variety of bees are also found drinking nectar and gathering pollen here. Honey bees use the pollen to produce honey.

 
Several syrphid flies also like to drink nectar from these spheres. We often see these flower flies making a circle around the blooms. Look closely at the photo below and you can see the fly drinking.

syrphid fly on button bush
Syrphid fly on button bush

Another really fascinating hover fly is the yellow jacket hover fly also known as the 'good news bee' because these guys will hover in front of you as if to give you the latest news from your garden.

Yellow jacket hover fly (Milesia virginiensis)

They are often mistaken for hornets since they fly aggressively and buzz loudly as if mimicking a hornet. Can you see the resemblance? But no worries, syrphid flies are completely harmless and good for your garden. Their larvae will eat lots of aphids.

yellow jacket hover fly 'Milesia,virginiensis'
Yellow jacket hover fly (Milesia virginiensis)
The button bush is usually found in swamps and marshes but it is tolerant of soil and moisture conditions once established. Ours is located at the bottom of a slopped area and it benefits from all the water run-off. We will be adding another one near our house in an area that tends to flood during heavy rains. It is perfect plant for a rain garden.

Button bush 'Cephalanthus occidentalis'

It is a great native alternative to the butterfly bush which is considered invasive in some parts of the country. And unlike the butterfly bush which is only a nectar source, the button bush is also a host plant to 18 different Lepidoptera species including the promethea moth, hydrangea sphinx, and dagger moth.  You may just be lucky enough to find a saddleback caterpillar on it! The button bush is hardy from zone 4 to 11 and will grow anywhere from 6 to 10 feet tall.

This is by far one of my favorite plants in our garden and one that every wildlife garden should include.

19 comments:

  1. These photos are fantastic! I will add Button bush to my list of plants I want to buy in the fall!

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    1. Thanks Penny! We can go shopping together. I want to add at least one more maybe two.

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  2. Oh, that's going on my list!! What a great plant. I have some swampy areas that that would be perfect for. Does it like a lot of sun? I love your photo of the fly drinking nectar!

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    1. It does well in sun. Mine gets morning sun and indirect the rest of the day but I've seen them out in full sun and they are happy. I think the key is that they have acidic to neutral soil which is moist to wet. Sounds like you have a perfect spot for one in your garden. I look forward to hearing how it does in your garden.

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  3. I've had very poor luck with butterfly bushes. I think the button bush might be just the ticket for my garden.

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    1. We removed all our butterfly bushes a few years ago since they are on the invasive list in several surrounding counties in Georgia. This shrub has filled the void and more. Pollinators go crazy for it!

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  4. That is such a neat shrub. Wish I could have one but just not a good location here to put one in at.
    Cher Sunray Gardens

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  5. Glad to hear you like it. I got "Sugar Shack" last year from a mail order place so it's still too small to be doing anything yet. But I have high hopes for next year. I hear the fall color is nice too.

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  6. Oh how I wish I could grow this.

    But I'm trying hard to create the most drought resistant garden possible and I just don't think this fits the bill. I have one area on the property that seems to stay wet for days after a rainstorm, but eventually it will dry out and be hard as concrete if we have any lengthy period of drought. I kinda doubt the Button Bush would appreciate that...

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  7. I've heard so many good things about this bush, and it's one of the ones I'm considering to replace some non-natives. When does it start blooming in your garden? I love the fact that all the pollinators like it and it's a host plant to so many. :)

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  8. I really wish I had room for a button bush! I've always wanted to grow one. I wish there was a dwarf cultivar. I might be able to find a spot for that. What a totally cool plant! :o)

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  9. Lovely photos and equally lovely flowers! I have never heard of the button bush, but it looks lovely. Thanks for the tour :-)

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  10. Karin I have long admired this plant and I really must get one or two for the garden...just gorgeous and critter recommended!

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  11. Hi again Karin
    I can see you are being rather swamped by spammers lately!
    I assume most of the spam comments are ending up in your spam folder, have you checked it lately? You might not see them, but all of us who have signed up to your blog post and who are waiting for a response to our comments are also getting these spam emails.
    I had a lot of these spam comments about 2 years ago and I just removed the option for anonymous people to leave comments – after all, how many times do you get a comment from someone anonymous that isn’t spam? I have never got a genuine comment, only spam from anonymous people!

    You just go into Design, click on ‘Setting’s, ‘Post and Comments’ and on who can comment, choose ‘Registered User’, instead of Anyone. I had almost 100 spam comments in the space of a few months, but after changing my setting almost 2 years ago I think I have had 2-3 unwanted comments.
    I hope this helps :-)

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    1. Thank you Helene! I have changed my settings. I haven't been on my blog in ages as my summer has just been crazy busy. I feel horrible that all these spam messages (and they are vulgar too) went to y'all who commented. Teaches me that I must be more attentive here.

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  12. You're definitely tempting me! I think I even know where I could put one. It's shade tolerant, right? Great pictures of all the critters!

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  13. What a lovely shrub, and not one I'd come across before. I'm always happy to add plants to my garden that help the bees and butterflies, and they really seem to be enjoying your garden. I love that you call the hover fly the 'good news' bee :-) .

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  14. I'm not familiar with the button bush, but it sure looks like a favourite for everything flying in the vicinity, as well as being pretty.

    Karen

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"Don't wait for someone to bring you flowers. Plant your own garden and decorate your soul"

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