- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
A bee on a ball.
When it flowers, the button-willow (Cephalanthus occidentalis), also known as willow buttonbush, honey ball, and button ball (oh, that’s so close to butter ball!) attracts honey bees and butterflies like you wouldn’t believe.
The ball-like flowers look like pincussions and it's fascinating to watch the honey bees buzz in and out of "the spikes."
UC Davis apiculturist Eric Mussen says it's a favorite of honey bees.
The button-willow is a small tree or bush that grows along stream beds. We spotted this one (below) on restored native pollinator habitat in Yolo County.
Back in 1931, UC Davis entomologist G. H. Vansell listed 175 species of plants as good "nectar yielders" in his still-authoritative UC publication, Nectar and Pollen Plants of California. Vansell wrote that "six of the most important sources of nectar in California are the sages (Salvia), alfalfa, orange, wild buckwheats, starthistle and Christmas berry; of these, the sages, wild buckhweats and Christmas berry are native."
Vansell mentioned that the button-willow, because of its riparian location, "is abundantly supplied with moisture and is easily 'worked' by bees."
It still is.