Cephalanthus occidentalis
(Cephalanthus occidentalis)

Distribution Map to Right
Counties in blue contain tree

Distribution Map

Shape and Distribution
Buttonbush is a shrub, typically less than 10 feet tall. It requires wet soils and is occurs along swamps, small ponds, and streams throughout the eastern half of the United States. In Illinois, it is common along streams and is present around the swamps in extreme southern Illinois.

Interesting Facts
Buttonbush is the only truly aquatic shrub in central Illinois. It takes its common name from the fact that the flowers, which are clustered together in ball-shaped structures at the ends of twigs, look like buttons. The wilted leaves reportedly can poison livestock.

Identifying Features

Buttonbush typically has opposite, but sometimes whorled leaves in groups of 3 or 4 leaves. Leaves are up to 3 - 6 inches long, and lance-shaped with a pointed tip. The leafstalks are red and the twigs are rounded and smooth. 
The flowers are white, tubular, and clustered into rounded heads at the ends of the twigs.

The Fox (Mesqwaki) people used a concoction made from the inner bark as an emetic. It was considered a very important medicine. Early European settlers used the bark as a substitute for quinine to treat malaria. Malaria was actually quite common in areas around the wet depressions on prairies and along the big rivers in Illinois.