Along the backwater shores of the river, the buttonbush puts out its honey balls for midsummer bees. Buttonbush is a low shrub of the wet lands, of the black, caked, alluvial soil remaining after floods or, its roots in the water of a black swamp, spreads bright green leaves to the hot sunshine and sends rich fragrance into the thick, swamp air.


Cephalanthus occidentalis L.

Summer River swamps.

There in the swamp, there along the river, when midsummer makes low water and muddy shores, the buttonbush is part of a picture of that wild country. Here the green heron nests in an overhanging willow; here beneath the buttonbushes the young wood ducks come to hide after a swim in the shallows; here in the bushes themselves the tiger swallowtails come to sip buttonbush nectar. Redstarts chitter endlessly all day long in the tall maples along the river; a water snake slithers across the mud and beneath the buttonbushes, winds itself up in the branches and waits for a prothonotary warbler to pass singing that way. This is the kind of country the buttonbush belongs to. is part of - and forms that important middle strata above the low plants and the tall trees in the river swamps.

Buttonbush is in the same family as coffee and cinchona (quinine), partridge berry, bedstraw, and bluets, a most diverse family which comes botanically between the plantains and the honeysuckles. Buttonbush has the typical opposite leaves of the Madder family. The flowers spring at right angles from the axils of the leaves and are composed of a globular mass of tubular creamy white, extremely fragrant flowers whose long protruding stamens and pistils give each flower-ball a pincushiony, fluffy appearance of great beauty.