The buttonwood tree is commonly found in tropical wetlands. It displays a sprawling growth habit. The trunks and larger branches typically arch in every direction. With selective pruning, Conocarpus erectus can be made into a very attractive landscape specimen.
The 2-3 inch long leaves are oval-shaped, leathery and green except in the beautiful silver button wood which has downy silver leaves.
The glands on the leaf undersides are highly visible.
The tree's bark peels from the trunk and older branches in long, thin strips. The dark brown bark is ridged. In the wild this gives
, which can often be seen growing on buttonwood trees, a nice foothold.
The wood of the buttonwood is very hard and burns slowly. It has traditionally been used as cooking fuel.
The tree bears yellowish flowers in small dangling clusters which resemble buttons. This is what gives rise to its common name. The flowers mature into hard, round seed cases but cuttings are easier to root than the seeds are to germinate. Air layering is another means of propagation.
Buttonwood cannot grow in pure salt water, but thrives in brackish mangrove wetlands. Trees grown on the coast will be smaller than those grown in more inland areas because of this.
Tiny and I went on a 3 day cruise to the Bahamas for our 24th anniversary. The silver buttonwoods growing on Coco Cay (Royal Caribbean's private island) caught our attention as soon as we stepped onto the island. They grow very near the beach and the combination of blue-green water, pale sand, and silver foliage is stunning.
The buttonwood is hardy from zone 10b-11. It grows well in urban areas plagued by air pollution, poor drainage, and compacted soil. It is a "clean" tree as the leaves are small and not messy when they fall. Its mature height is 40 feet with a 30 foot spread.
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