By Sherri McShane, Bexar County Master Gardener
The Culinary Garden at the San Antonio Botanical Garden (SABOT) is truly a magical place. Within this lovely space there is a plant which is the number one curiosity sparker for the many people who visit. The plant? The Texas Buttonbush!
With its distinctive look of small round pincushions, the Texas Buttonbush attracts people as much as it does pollinators. Also known as the Common Button-bush (or Cephalanthus occidentalis), it is a medium to large shrub with glossy, oval leaves and white, globe-shaped flowers. It can grow from 8 to 18 feet tall and 4 to 10 feet wide.
Fast growing and short lived, it spreads by suckering. An extremely adaptable plant, the Buttonbush has high heat tolerances and can grow in poorly drained areas, even surviving in dry sites if irrigated. At SABOT, the Texas Buttonbush grows in an ironclad, wet weather channel as part of a rain garden system. Since its light requirements are also adaptable, the Texas Buttonbush can grow in full to partial sun.
You might wonder why this plant is included in a culinary garden, but the answer is simple. The Texas Buttonbush is a great source of pollen and nectar for honeybees. In fact, the Clemson Cooperative Extension reports it was commercially introduced primarily for beekeepers in 1735!. The fragrant, white globes, while more interesting than beautiful, are a delight to pollinators.
On a recent Culinary Garden visit, I counted 12 butterflies and 4 bees all vying for the optimal spot on a single flower! The Texas Buttonbush is obviously an ideal choice for your butterfly garden.
Visitors to the Culinary Garden also ask if the Texas Buttonbush and gomphrena are related. Gomphrena globosa is part of the Amaranthaceae family, while the Buttonbush is a member of the Rubiaceae family. While both have globe-shaped flowers, they are not related.
On your next visit to SABOT, be sure to look for the Texas Buttonbush. You will have lots of pollinators for company!
All photos by author