Cephalanthus occidentalis

Shyzaboy took today’s Botany Photo of the Day in Roanoke, Virginia, and then posted it in our Flickr Pool early last week. Our thanks go to him for a great image. (Original Image)

Rubiaceae, commonly known as the madder or coffee family, consists of about 650 genera and 13000 species of (mostly) herbaceous flowering plants. The family, which includes the genus Gardenia, is commonly divided into the three subfamilies of Rubioideae, Cinchonoideae, and Ixoroideae, though a fourth subfamily, Antirheoideae, is sometimes used as well.

Cephalanthus—which, due to its tightly clustered, globose, and terminal inflorescences derives its name from the ancient Greek for 'head flower'—is a genus that counts between 6 and 15 species among its ranks. Commonly known as buttonbush, these species tend to bear their simple leaves either oppositely arranged or in whorls of three. They are native to the temperate and tropical climate zones of Asia, the Americas, and Africa.

The plant featured in today’s photo, Cephalanthus occidentalis, is a deciduous shrub that reaches to between 2 and, rarely, 15 metres in height. It generally grows multiple, glabrous, woody stems, and it thrives in wetland habitats and moist, well-shaded, loamy soils. From June to August, the plant puts forth the tightly packed orb of a flower typical of Cephalanthus species, which in this case boasts a fused, four-lobed corolla, and rests elegantly upon a short peduncle. Distributed throughout most of the eastern half of North America, buttonbush provides sensuous pleasure to humans and building materials to the Wood Duck (Aix sponsa), while its seed and nut-cluster of a fruit variously offer sustenance to deer, insects, and hummingbirds. Historically, humans have used an extract from the plant for medicinal purposes, but readers should note that the plant’s cephalatin content renders it toxic if not properly treated.

Should you like to see a previous entry on this flower, click here.

Cephalanthus occidentalis

14 responses to “Cephalanthus occidentalis”

  1. Viola

    Most outstanding photo of buttonbush in flower!

  2. mtn_laurel

    Lovely image, & I enjoyed the informative & succinct description (especially the phrase “buttonbush provides sensuous pleasure to humans and building materials to the Wood Duck” – tickles my sense of humor!).

  3. Rose

    I remember seeing these in Michigan, but never in flower. Thanks!

  4. elizabeth a airhart

    fine picture and write up for this day
    buttonbush grows here in florida
    i goggleed this plant found another
    picture on a new site to me
    outside my window kate st john
    that lead me to chuck teague
    this site has lead me all around the world
    and my own country so many who share
    thier world with us thank you

  5. The Hollyberry Lady

    Is there anything more beautiful?!!!
    : O

  6. phillip

    “goodness…greatness..great balls…
    of beauty”

  7. Adriana

    Wow-this is one of my favorite plants! Grows in copious amounts along the shores of Lake Erie by Kelly’s island. “sensuous pleasure” is a correct term for human enjoyment! everyone has a need to touch the little globes!

  8. Julie

    It’s like a little floral “Sputnik” – lovely!

  9. Annie Morgan

    If you have never seen the flower, it isn’t much more than an inch or so in diameter! Lovely photo.

  10. Sam Grinstead

    Cool, I’ve seen many buttonbush fruits, but never the flowers!

  11. Eric in SF

    Odd – the original poster removed the image from Flickr – the link is broken.

  12. Doug

    Eric, I didn’t remove it. Looks like the link isn’t quite right (missing the “s” in “photos”)…

  13. Doug

    The link has been fixed…

  14. Helen Duffhues

    Beautiful photo of a beautiful flower. I have never seen one before, but hopefully I can find some to plant & that they will thrive in the horseshoe area of Ontario. We are E of Toronto & slightly S of Peterborough.. Wish me luck

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