Grow Buttonbush to Attract Butterflies and Pollinators

Buttonbush is a native plant with many benefits for pollinators. This flowering shrub is a perfect pick for that wet spot in your yard.

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Pollinators and Birds Love Buttonbush

Butterflies and a bee visit the white blooms of a buttonbushCourtesy Linda Taylor
Butterflies and a bee visit the white blooms of a buttonbush.

Buttonbush’s fragrant white flowers are a favorite of bees, butterflies and other pollinators, and well-loved by gardeners. “This is one I think more people should be growing,” says Dan Scott, the former associate director of gardens and facilities at the American Horticultural Society. “Buttonbush presents an incredible white pincushion-esque flower in midsummer.”

Once it starts flowering, this long-blooming plant provides months and months of enjoyment for gardeners and pollinators alike.

Buttonbush’s white spheres are actually made up of tons of smaller flowers that pollinators love. You might see butterflies, hummingbirds and bees stop by the aromatic flowers. Pollinators rely on nectar from the white blooms and, in turn, these pollinators spread pollen from flower to flower.

As the flowers fade, spherical fruits appear and persist through winter, providing seeds for a variety of birds. Ducks and shorebirds are especially fond of the seeds and songbirds may take cover in the large shrub.

See 8 more super fragrant plants that pollinators love. Plus, check out these 11 succulents that will bring pollinators to your yard.

Host Plant for Butterflies

Buttonbush also supports several types of caterpillars as a host plant. A host plant is a tree, flower or shrub that caterpillars hatch on and eat.

These shrubs may attract garden moths like the hydrangea sphinx, titan sphinx or the royal walnut moth. You may spot the adults fluttering around the plants or the caterpillars on the leaves.

Check out the top 10 trees and shrubs with berries for birds.

How to Grow Buttonbush

bushes that attract butterfliesCourtesy Ingrid Fehr
This flowering shrub will attract butterflies

Here’s what you need to know about buttonbush before you plant one of these flowering bushes in your yard.

  • Botanical name: Cephalanthus occidentalis
  • Zone: 4 to 8
  • Light: Full to part sun
  • Soil: Moist soil
  • Size: More than 6 feet wide and tall, may grow closer to 12 feet in the ideal conditions

When you’re ready to start growing, learn how to plant a shrub.

Where to Plant Buttonbush

buttonbushCourtesy Jimmie Anderson
Buttonbush flower (Cephalanthus occidentalis) at Lake Norman, North Carolina

Many plants need a spot with well-draining soil and plenty of sun, but not buttonbush. You do want to avoid planting it in a dry area.

In the wild, this plant grows in wetlands and lowlands. So pick a spot that is consistently damp and partly shaded. Be sure to give it room to grow—in the right conditions, it can spread up to 12 feet tall and wide.

For a smaller-space option, consider Fiber Optics buttonbush. Smaller than traditional buttonbush at 5 to 6 feet tall and wide, Fiber Optics is still a true wildlife magnet. Bees, hummingbirds and butterflies will sip nectar from the white spherical blooms. If planted near water, ducks and loons may eat the seeds in the winter. It requires the same general growing conditions as regular buttonbush, and its bright green leaves turn yellow in fall.

Check out the top 10 shrubs for shade gardens.

Where to Buy Buttonbush

common buttonbushVia Nature Hills Nursery
This native plant features pom-pom-like white blooms.

Buttonbush is relatively common, so you may be able to buy one from your local nursery. Call ahead to see if they offer the plant or would order it for you. If you can’t find it locally, Nature Hills Nursery offers common buttonbush on their website.

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Where to Buy Dwarf Buttonbush

Sugar Shack buttonbush still has buttonbush's trademark white flowers, but grows only 4 feet tall.Burpee / burpee.com
Sugar Shack buttonbush still has the plant’s white flowers, but grows only 4 feet tall.

Love the look of this plant but don’t have the space to grow it? Consider Sugar Shack, available online from Burpee. At only 3 to 4 feet tall, this dwarf flowering shrub will fit nearly anywhere.

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Rachel Maidl
Rachel Maidl is a former senior editor for Birds & Blooms magazine. She enjoys bird-watching in her urban backyard and local state parks, gardening for pollinators and researching new plants. Her favorite backyard visitors are the bumblebees that visit her sedums.