Wednesday, June 16, 2010


Buttonbush, Cephalanthus occidentalis, was among the first plants I bought after reading Doug Tallamy's Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants. In it he writes,

Buttonbush is another of my favorites for the butterfly garden. It's ball-shaped flowers capture the eye, it does well in wet areas, butterflies fight to gain access to it's nectar, and it serves as a host plant for 18 species of Lepidoptera in my neck of the woods. These include the ethereal promethea moth (Callosamia promethea), the hydrangea sphinx (Darapsa versicolor), and the saddleback caterpillar (Acharia stimulea). What better way to introduce your kids to the wonders of nature than to have them watch a female promethea moth emerge from her cocoon, inflate her wings, and attracting a male of her species within minutes for coupling?
With such a riveting description I had to buy one. The only problem is the first year the plant went into shock only producing new growth from the ground and nothing from the existing wood. The second year I was happy to see all of the existing growth came back to life but still no flowers. This year though, I finally see little flower balls buds forming all over the plant. I can't wait to see this plant in action.

Videos on the internet, as well as pictures show off the amazing butterfly attracting power of this plant... my only question is why aren't there more of them? These three videos are the cream of the crop You Tube has to offer. (A google image search also has lots to show but unfortunately one of the best photo albums showing butterflies on this plant has become corrupted by a virus and I'm not linking to that. Click with caution.)

Look At That Video! It's like every species of North American Swallowtail is on the same plant all at once. Spicebush Swallowtail (Papilio troilus), Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus), and the Zebra Swallowtail (Eurytides marcellus) all in one place. Okay so we're missing a couple. How often do you see those three together though? People pay good money to walk through butterfly houses at zoos. And because this is a host plant it's more beneficial to the environment than the Butterfly Bush, Buddleia sp. Probably far less dead heading involved too.

I hope my plant flowers well enough that I can add to this collection of videos and show the world how wonderful this plant is truly said to be.