Cephalanthus occidentalis, or Button Bush, is one of my favorite Kentucky native plants and it is already starting to bloom in the Bluegrass Region. Because this plant is poisonous, care must be taken when growing in places children may frequent. Although there are no modern day medicinal or culinary uses for the Button Bush, Native Americans were thought to have used the bark and roots to treat several illnesses.
A deciduous shrub, the Button Bush can grow from 3 to 15 feet tall, with the average mature height of 10 feet. It has a spread of 4 to 8 feet. The most notable feature of the Button Bush is the spherical formation of the flowers. The Button Bush grows well in areas saturated with water, and it can survive and even thrive with its roots partially covered by water. My Button Bush is growing in my front flowerbed and it is situated under a drippy gutter to keep it moist. The Button Bush lives in most of the Unites States and Mexico, and even as far North as Canada.
Button Bush can grow in a range of sun exposures, from light shade to full sun. From experience, I know it grows extremely well in places where it can get full morning sun and afternoon shade. It also benefits from a healthy layer of compost each spring and again in the fall.
Excellent specimens of the Button Bush can be found at the Lexington Arboretum or at the Salato Wildlife Refuge in Frankfort.