Monday, June 6, 2011

Buttonbush ~ Elizabeth Smith

A curiously flowered shrub, the buttonbush takes its name from the round button-like fruits. The flowers are described as looking like pincushions, puffballs, or ping-pong balls, and are about 1 to 1-1/2 inches in diameter. Buttonbush enjoys damp areas and thrives in swamps, marshes, and along water edges throughout most of the eastern United States. It ventures into the Midwest just past the Mississippi River and grows in selected moist pockets in Arizona and California.

The creamy white flower balls have a sweet scent and attract bees, hummingbirds, and butterflies. The fruit ball is composed of small nutlets, which serve as a food source for ducks and other birds. The bushy growth provides cover for birds and other small animals. The leaves on this buttonbush are whorled in groups of three, but they also grow in opposite pairs. buttonbush is deciduous, which means that it drops its leaves in the fall or winter. The new growth on this shrub is tinged with red on the petioles (leaf stems) and the tips of the leaves.

Although considered inedible for humans and horses, deer are reported to enjoy the foliage and young twigs. Buttonbush leaves, bark, and roots had wide uses as a decoction, a gargle, and poultice and were used by Native Americans and European settlers to cure ailments from dysentery to toothache. However, the plant contains toxins that often had worse effects than the illness it treated, and eventually fell out of favor.

I often draw directly in ink in the field with a bit of preliminary color, adding more color and calligraphy labels later.  I used a Sepia Micron Pigma pen and a combination of Kimberly and Derwent watercolor pencils with a Niji Aquabrush.  Late May and early June days in southwest Florida can be extremely HOT until our summer rains start.  This is a buttonbush growing along the boardwalk at Freedom Park here in Naples.  It was a nice shady spot, and the boardwalk has a convenient rail, perfect for resting a sketchpad!

If you’d like to read more about buttonbush, please visit the following links:

Florida’s Nature

~  Elizabeth Smith,  Naples, Florida, USA


  1. What a beautiful sketch!

  2. Fantastic rendition, Elizabeth! I've been wanting to sketch this wonderful bush for a few years but was always put off by all the thin spikes on the balls. You made this piece ever so lovely and delicate. Great info!

  3. Inspiring sketch, Elizabeth.

  4. The layout is gorgeous, so fresh. Thanks for adding the info on how you draw, I especially enjoyed it

  5. Thank you everyone! These are beautiful shrubs when they are blooming. I forgot to add that I used a white gel pen to highlight the stamens.

    And Pam, once I started on this one, I thought "OH NO, what am I getting into?" But at that point I then thought that I really didn't have anything to lose! I'm just happy that it turned out.

    I also used a light green WC pencil to block out my inital shapes, but you can see I didn't really plan my space well as I nipped off the ends of two leaves. That happens to me quite a bit...

  6. Elizabeth, what a wonderful job on a difficult subject! Masterful use of the gel pen, too...

  7. Thanks so much, Kate! The drawing was MUCH easier than the color rendering in WC pencil and gel pen. I actually did several layers of WC pencils on the background (dry, then wet with my brush, then dry penciil again for interesting texture) to try to get the deep shade of the swamp. The Aquabee sketchbook paper took it, but still has some buckles in it!

  8. It looks like it took a bit of many shades and textures!


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