(Cephalanthus occidentalis) Madder family
Flowers - Fragrant, white, small, tubular, hairy within,
4-parted, the long, yellow-tipped style far protruding; the
florets clustered on a fleshy receptacle, in round heads (about 1
in. across), elevated on long peduncles from leaf-axils or ends
of branches. Stem:
A shrub 3 to 12 ft. high. Leaves: Opposite or
in small whorls, petioled, oval, tapering at the tip, entire.
Preferred Habitat - Beside streams and ponds; swamps, low ground.
Flowering Season - June-September.
Distribution - New Brunswick to Florida and Cuba, westward to
Arizona and California.
Delicious fragrance, faintly suggesting jasmine, leads one over
marshy ground to where the buttonbush displays dense,
creamy-white globes of bloom, heads that Miss Lounsberry aptly
likens to "little cushions full of pins." Not far away the sweet
breath of the white-spiked clethra comes at the same season, and
one cannot but wonder why these two bushes, which are so
beautiful when most garden shrubbery is out of flower, should be
left to waste their sweetness, if not on desert air exactly, on
air that blows far from the homes of men. Partially shaded and
sheltered positions near a house, if possible, suit these water
lovers admirably. Cultivation only increases their charms. We
have not so many fragrant wild flowers that any can be neglected.
John Burroughs, who included the blossoms of several trees in his
list of fragrant ones, found only thirty-odd species in New
England and New York.
Examine a well-developed ball of bloom on the button-bush under a
magnifying glass to appreciate its perfection of detail. After
counting two hundred and fifty minute florets, tightly clustered,
one's tired eyes give out. A honey-ball, with a well of nectar in
each of these narrow tubes, invites hosts of insects to its
hospitable feast; but only visitors long and slender of tongue
can drain the last drop, therefore the vicinity of this bush is
an excellent place for a butterfly collector to carry his net.
Butterflies are by far the most abundant visitors; honey-bees
also abound, bumblebees, carpenter and mining bees, wasps, a
horde of flies, and some destructive beetles; but the short
tongues can reach little nectar. Why do the pistils of the
florets protrude so far? Even before each minute bud opened, all
its pollen had been shed on the tip of the style, to be in a
position to be removed by the first visitor alighting on the ball
of bloom. After the removal of the pollen from the still immature
stigma, it becomes sticky, to receive the importation from other
blossoms. Did not the floret pass through two distinct stages,
first male, then female, self-fertilization, not
cross-fertilization, would be the inevitable result. The dull red
and green seed-balls, which take on brown and bronze tints after
frost, make beautiful additions to an autumn bouquet. The bush is
next of kin to the coffee.
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