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SPECIES:  Cephalanthus occidentalis
Common buttonbush. Creative Commons image by Nancy Loewenstein, Auburn University,



SPECIES: Cephalanthus occidentalis
AUTHORSHIP AND CITATION: Snyder, S. A. 1991. Cephalanthus occidentalis. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: []. Updates: On 1 March 2018, the common name of this species was changed in FEIS from: buttonbush to: common buttonbush. Images were also added.
ABBREVIATION: CEPOCC SYNONYMS: Cephalanthus occidentalis var. pubescens (Raf.) Cephalanthus occidentalis var. californicus (Benth.) Cephalanthus occidentalis var. angustifolius (Dippel) [8,21,28] NRCS PLANT CODE: CEOC2 COMMON NAMES: common buttonbush buttonball buttonbush button willow riverbush TAXONOMY: The scientific name of common buttonbush is Cephalanthus occidentalis L. (Rubiaceae) [8]. LIFE FORM: Shrub, Tree FEDERAL LEGAL STATUS: No special status OTHER STATUS: NO-ENTRY


SPECIES: Cephalanthus occidentalis
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION: Common buttonbush's distribution extends from southern Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec, and Ontario south through southern Florida and west through the eastern half of the Great Plains States [8,16]. Scattered populations exist in New Mexico, Arizona, and the Central Valley of California [28].
Distribution of common buttonbush. 1977 USDA, Forest Service map digitized by Thompson and others [37].

   FRES15  Oak - hickory
   FRES16  Oak - gum - cypress
   FRES17  Elm - ash - cottonwood
   FRES18  Maple - beech - birch
   FRES32  Texas savanna
   FRES41  Wet grasslands
   FRES42  Annual grasslands

     AL  AZ  AR  CA  CT  DE  FL  GA  IL  IN
     IA  KS  KY  LA  ME  MA  MI  MN  MS  MO
     NE  NH  NJ  NM  NC  OH  OK  PA  RI  SC
     TN  TX  VT  VA  WV  WI  NB  NS  ON  PQ

    3  Southern Pacific Border
    7  Lower Basin and Range
   12  Colorado Plateau
   13  Rocky Mountain Piedmont
   14  Great Plains

   K030  California oakwoods
   K049  Tule marshes
   K080  Marl - Everglades
   K091  Cypress savanna
   K092  Everglades
   K098  Northern floodplain forest
   K099  Maple - basswood forest
   K100  Oak - hickory forest
   K101  Elm - ash forest
   K102  Beech - maple forest
   K103  Mixed mesophytic forest
   K104  Appalachian oak forest
   K105  Mangrove
   K106  Northern hardwoods
   K110  Northeastern oak - pine forest
   K112  Southern mixed forest
   K113  Southern floodplain forest
   K114  Pocosin

    14  Northern pin oak
    16  Aspen
    19  Grey birch - red maple
    26  Sugar maple - basswood
    27  Sugar maple
    28  Black cherry - maple
    39  Black ash - American elm - red maple
    43  Bear oak
    63  Cottonwood
    64  Sassafras - persimmon
    65  Pin oak - sweet gum
    74  Cabbage palmetto
    87  Sweet gum - yellow-poplar
    88  Willow oak - water oak - diamondleaf oak
    89  Live oak
    91  Swamp chestnut oak - cherrybark oak
    92  Sweetgum - willow oak
    93  Sugarberry - American elm - green ash
    94  Sycamore - sweetgum - American elm
    95  Black willow
    96  Overcup oak - water hickory
   100  Pondcypress
   101  Baldcypress
   102  Baldcypress - tupelo
   103  Water tupelo - swamp tupelo
   104  Sweetbay - swamp tupelo - redbay
   105  Tropical hardwoods
   106  Mangrove
   108  Red maple
   235  Cottonwood - willow


Common buttonbush is a wetland shrub common to most swamps and floodplains of
eastern and southern North America [8,28].  It is listed as a component
of the following community types:

Area                         Classification       Authority

CA: Sacramento Valley        riparian cts         Conard & others 1977
United States                wetland cts          Cowardin & others 1979


SPECIES: Cephalanthus occidentalis
IMPORTANCE TO LIVESTOCK AND WILDLIFE: Many species of waterfowl and shorebirds eat common buttonbush seeds [18,28]. White-tailed deer use of common buttonbush browse varies from light in Pennsylvania [32] to heavy in Nova Scotia [23]. Bees use common buttonbush to produce honey [31]. PALATABILITY: NO-ENTRY NUTRITIONAL VALUE: NO-ENTRY COVER VALUE: Common buttonbush is important to wood ducks for brood rearing and hiding [19]. VALUE FOR REHABILITATION OF DISTURBED SITES: NO-ENTRY OTHER USES AND VALUES: The bark of common buttonbush was traditionally used for making laxatives, and for curing skin, bronchial, and venereal diseases [28]. Caution must be used, however, because the bark contains cephalathin, a poison that can induce vomiting, paralysis, and convulsions. OTHER MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS: Much of common buttonbush's natural habitat in California is being destroyed by agriculture and water development projects; common buttonbush is not a good colonizer of manmade waterways [13]. Common buttonbush is moderately susceptible to herbicides; if shrubs become too thick, they can be reduced by cutting in the fall during low water [4,18].


SPECIES: Cephalanthus occidentalis
GENERAL BOTANICAL CHARACTERISTICS: Common buttonbush is a deciduous, warm-season, tall shrub or small tree that can reach up to 18 feet (6 m) in height [28]. Its base is often swollen. Branches are usually green when young but turn brown at maturity. Common buttonbush has opposite, lanceolate-oblong leaves about 7 inches (18 cm) long and 3 inches (7.5 cm) wide [24]. Tiny, white flowers occur in dense, spherical clusters at the ends of the branches. Fruits are a round cluster of brown, cone-shaped nutlets [28]. RAUNKIAER LIFE FORM: Phanerophyte REGENERATION PROCESSES: Common buttonbush regenerates by seed. Seed is best collected when the nutlets have turned reddish-brown, and averages about 134,000 per pound (60,702/kg) [31]. Pretreatment of seeds is unnecessary [3]. Seeds have a low germination rate [28]. Common buttonbush can also be propagated by planting cuttings in moist, sandy soil. SITE CHARACTERISTICS: Common buttonbush grows along swamps, marshes, bogs, ditches, and other riparian areas that are inundated for at least part of the year [8,24]. It grows in alluvial plains that experience intermittent flooding, but can be damaged by spring flooding [12,20,23]. Faber-Langendoen and Maycock [7] reported that common buttonbush was very tolerant of flooding and that its abundance increased with increasing water depth. These authors also reported an increase in common buttonbush with an increase in light level. Elevational and geographical distribution of common buttonbush may be limited by mean July temperatures of 68 degrees Fahrenheit (20 deg C) [13]. Elevations have been reported at 635 feet (193 m) in Illinois [1] and between 60 and 160 feet (22-50 m) in Quebec [27]. Common buttonbush was found growing in sandy, loamy sandy, or alluvial soil with a sandy or silty surface in Quebec [27]. Common associates of common buttonbush include American beech (Fagus grandifolia), red maple (Acer rubrum), sugar maple (A. saccharum), ash (Fraxinus spp.), black oak (Quercus velutina), pin oak (Q. palustris), tupelo and gum (Nyssa spp.), baldcypress (Taxodium distichum), southern bayberry (Myrica cerifera), redbay (Persea palustris), holly (Ilex spp.), dogberry (Ribes cynosbati), grape (Vitis spp.), viburnum (Viburnum spp.), poison-ivy (Toxicodendron radicans), indiangrass (Sorgastrom nutans), big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii), switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), and sedge (Carex spp.) [5,7,11]. SUCCESSIONAL STATUS: Common buttonbush is a pioneer species in frequently flooded baldcypress/water tupelo (Nyssa aquatica) swamps, establishing on rotting logs and stumps [35]. In the Sacremento Valley, common buttonbush/dogwood (Corunus spp.) communities are succeeded by white alder (Alnus rhombifolia)/willow (Salix spp.)/Oregon ash (Fraxinus latifolia) and eventually cottonwood (Populus spp.) forests [36]. Common buttonbush also colonizes lowland marsh communities dominated by hardstem bulrush (Scirpus acutus). SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT: Common buttonbush flowers between June and September and produces fruit between September and October [8,24,28].


SPECIES: Cephalanthus occidentalis
FIRE ECOLOGY OR ADAPTATIONS: Because the base of common buttonbush shrubs are partially submerged during most of the year, fire may not be a threat. FIRE REGIMES: Find fire regime information for the plant communities in which this species may occur by entering the species name in the FEIS home page under "Find Fire Regimes". POSTFIRE REGENERATION STRATEGY: off-site colonizer; seed carried by animals or water; postfire yr 1&2


SPECIES: Cephalanthus occidentalis
IMMEDIATE FIRE EFFECT ON PLANT: Fire likely top-kills common buttonbush. DISCUSSION AND QUALIFICATION OF FIRE EFFECT: NO-ENTRY PLANT RESPONSE TO FIRE: Common buttonbush sprouts following fire [9,11]. DISCUSSION AND QUALIFICATION OF PLANT RESPONSE: Common buttonbush can become the dominant shrub in grassy, wetland areas of the South excluded from fire [14]. However, when these areas are burned common buttonbush has been observed sprouting within a few months following fire [9,11,29]. Frequent fires in hardwood swamps of the South often promote willow sprouting and, occasionally, common buttonbush sprouting [30]. Following 2 years of drought, a severe fire in an area of the Okefenokee Swamp that supported common buttonbush killed most of the trees and consumed a 1-inch (2.45 cm) layer of peat. Common buttonbush was first observed on study plots 7 years later [34]. FIRE MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS: In Southern marshlands, where grasses are thick and impenetrable, fire can reduce grass densities and release nutrients, which enhances establishment of shrubs such as common buttonbush [29].


SPECIES: Cephalanthus occidentalis
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Breeding bird populations of a floodplain tallgrass prairie in Kansas. In: Bragg, Thomas B.; Stubbendieck, James, eds. Prairie pioneers: ecology, history and culture: Proceedings, 11th North American prairie conference; 1988 August 7-11; Lincoln, NE. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska: 259-262. [14059] 6. Eyre, F. H., ed. 1980. Forest cover types of the United States and Canada. Washington, DC: Society of American Foresters. 148 p. [905] 7. Faber-Langendoen, Don; Maycock, Paul F. 1989. Community patterns and environmental gradients of buttonbush, Cephalanthus occidentalis, ponds in lowland forests of southern Ontario. Canadian Field-Naturalist. 103(4): 479-485. [13458] 8. Fernald, Merritt Lyndon. 1950. Gray's manual of botany. [Corrections supplied by R. C. Rollins]. Portland, OR: Dioscorides Press. 1632 p. (Dudley, Theodore R., gen. ed.; Biosystematics, Floristic & Phylogeny Series; vol. 2). [14935] 9. Forthman, Carol Ann. 1973. The effects of prescribed burning on sawgrass. 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[11477] 21. Powell, A. Michael. 1988. Trees & shrubs of Trans-Pecos Texas including Big Bend and Guadalupe Mountains National Parks. Big Bend National Park, TX: Big Bend Natural History Association. 536 p. [6130] 22. Raunkiaer, C. 1934. The life forms of plants and statistical plant geography. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 632 p. [2843] 23. Roland, A. E. 1991. Coastal-plain plants in inland Nova Scotia. Rhodora. 93(875): 291-298. [16490] 24. Soper, James H.; Heimburger, Margaret L. 1982. Shrubs of Ontario. Life Sciences Misc. Publ. Toronto, ON: Royal Ontario Museum. 495 p. [12907] 25. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service. 1937. Range plant handbook. Washington, DC. 532 p. [2387] 26. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Soil Conservation Service. 1982. National list of scientific plant names. Vol. 1. List of plant names. SCS-TP-159. Washington, DC. 416 p. [11573] 27. Vincent, Gilles; Bergeron, Yves; Meilleur, Alain. 1986. Plant community pattern analysis: a cartographic approach applied in the Lac des Deux-Montagnes area (Quebec). Canadian Journal of Botany. 64: 326-335. [16948] 28. Vines, Robert A. 1960. Trees, shrubs, and woody vines of the Southwest. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press. 1104 p. [7707] 29. Vogl, Richard J. 1973. Effects of fire on the plants and animals of a Florida wetland. American Midland Naturalist. 89: 334-347. [14580] 30. Wade, Dale; Ewel, John; Hofstetter, Ronald. 1980. Fire in South Florida ecosystems. Gen. Tech. Rep. SE-17. Asheville, NC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Southeastern Forest Experiment Station. 125 p. [10362] 31. Young, James A.; Young, Cheryl G. 1986. Collecting, processing and germinating seeds of wildland plants. Portland, OR: Timber Press. 236 p. [12232] 32. Bramble, W. C.; Goddard, M. K. 1943. Seasonal browsing of woody plants by white-tailed deer in the bear oak forest type. Journal of Forestry. 41(7): 471-475. [3298] 33. Cowardin, Lewis M.; Carter, Virginia; Golet, Francis C.; LaRoe, Edward T. 1979. Classification of wetlands and deepwater habitats of the United States. FWS/OBS-79/31. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service. 103 p. [3482] 34. Cypert, Eugene. 1973. Plant succession on burned areas in Okefenokee Swamp following the fires of 1954 and 1955. In: Proceedings, annual Tall Timbers fire ecology conference; 1972 June 8-9; Lubbock, TX. Number 12. Tallahassee, FL: Tall Timbers Research Station: 199-217. [8467] 35. Conner, William H.; Gosselink, James G.; Parrondo, Roland T. 1981. Comparison of the vegetation of three Louisiana swamp sites with different flooding regimes. American Journal of Botany. 68(3): 320-331. [16947] 36. Eleuterius, Lionel N. 1975. The life history of the salt marsh rush, Juncus roemerianus. Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club. 102(3): 135-140. [16946] 37. Thompson, Robert S.; Anderson, Katherine H.; Bartlein, Patrick J. 1999. Digital representations of tree species range maps from "Atlas of United States trees" by Elbert L. Little, Jr. (and other publications). In: Atlas of relations between climatic parameters and distributions of important trees and shrubs in North America. Denver, CO: U.S. Geological Survey, Information Services (Producer). On file at: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory, Missoula, MT; FEIS files. [92575]

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