I purchased seed from a reputable supplier that was labelled as buttonbush or Cephalanthus occidentalis. One seed germinated and managed to grow two inches tall in the first two years. I then planted it in a tiny pocket of soil with access to water. Five years later this plant is now almost 15' tall (5 m) and flowering. The species is described as having " hard spherical ball-like fruits". The plant I have has elongated flowering bodies.

I wonder what exactly I have growing...it's taller, the flower is different but it sure likes water. Alternate leaves, deciduous, not a willow, pollinators like it for early spring bloom.

Here is a picture of a buttonbush from Ontario trees


Other pictures and descriptions of the species can be found here and here.

Here is what is growing in my backyard. What is it? closeup enter image description here cephalanthus?

  • 1
    Looks like you have a cherry
    – J. Musser
    Dec 11, 2016 at 4:57
  • Those catkins - are they present now and are they the first you've seen? It looks like its deciduous, is it? Reminiscent of Goat Willow (Salix caprea) but too late for catkins...
    – Bamboo
    Dec 11, 2016 at 12:50
  • @Bamboo. It is deciduous, they are not catkins but this the first year it "flowered" or whatever they are. I have a clethra in the same area. The flowers are different and it doesn't get this tall
    – kevinskio
    Dec 11, 2016 at 13:34
  • What is your location @kevinsky?
    – Viv
    Dec 12, 2016 at 5:16
  • 1
    I agree with @J. Musser. It's a cherry eh? Try chokecherry (Prunus virginiana).
    – Brenn
    Dec 18, 2016 at 13:20

2 Answers 2


Well, its not Cephalanthus occidentalis! I'll take a stab - one of the Clethras, maybe? Clethra alnifolia or Clethra delayavi; they love lots of water, but the flowers don't look decorative enough, unless the ones in the picture are going over. Growth rate seems a little fast too, and as a bush it looks a little lean and 'staring'... like it needs a hard prune!

  • It's big enough I put Christmas lights on it. A little tall for a clethra...
    – kevinskio
    Dec 11, 2016 at 13:35
  • 1
    Probably looks better with lights on it than it does without!
    – Bamboo
    Dec 11, 2016 at 15:38
  • I vote Clethra, too. Kevinsky, what a rip! You are going to go back and SAY something to those who sold you the wrong seed, yes? I'll bet this is on the North side of the house? The lack of light might be determining the height. I've never seen one this tall, but I've seen other shrubs such as Buddleia get this tall quickly when in a lower light situation.
    – stormy
    Dec 19, 2016 at 22:04
  • It is not a clethra. I have one growing in the same south location and they do not get more than. 1 or 2 M tall. This plant is well over 4 m, going on 5 M (15 feet)
    – kevinskio
    Dec 26, 2016 at 0:03
  • I say its an ordinary willow- looks identical to one in our old garden- flowers got everywhere!
    – olantigh
    Apr 30, 2017 at 15:50

Keep a close eye on the flowers. Willows are dioecious, Cephalanthus are not. See if the flower parts are male or female.

  • Hi, the flowers are in the last picture and all appear to be the same. The fruit is an open nut like thing that is quite unique to buttonbushes
    – kevinskio
    Jun 1, 2020 at 11:35

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