There are few woody plants that prefer constantly damp soils, and fewer that thrive in standing water. A year ago I was marginally aware of the native buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis), but took more notice with a swarm of bees and butterflies buzzing about a small patch of glossy leafed shrubs with odd, pin cushion-like blooms in a swampy spot along a trail that my wife and I regularly hike.
A boardwalk kept us above the muck and shallow, murky water, and it occurred to me as I watched the excited butterflies that this unusual shrub would be perfectly suited to the similarly wet conditions at the back corner of my rear garden.
I purchased three tall shrubs in late summer and immediately planted them in soil that is damp except for the few driest weeks of the year. The spot was partially shaded, but I was slightly uncomfortable that it might be too hot and dry to get them off to a successful start. But, wthin a week heavy rains arrived, followed by the remnants of a hurricane, and then a tropical storm. There was water everywhere, standing water and muck. I could barely walk through the back half of the garden for a month, so I had little fear that the buttonbushes would be happy.
In the spring they leafed, beautiful glossy green leaves, and then in June there were small round buds. By late in the month the buds grew to the distinctive pollen tipped pin cushion blooms. There’s been a notable lacking of butterflies in the garden this year, but there have been plenty of bumblebees and moths.
The buttonbush is a wonderful addition to the garden. The blooms are a bit unusual, but the shrub is not rare, or remarkable except that it is an attractive native that especially well suited to this damp situation.