Buttonwood

Conocarpus erectus
Family: Combretaceae

Natural History

Buttonwood is a shrubby mangrove tree that has a picturesque appearance when exposed to constant seashore winds creating an attractive addition to the beach landscape. Its name refers to the red-brown, cone-like fruits. Buttonwood is usually low branching and multi-trunked. It is native to Florida's mangrove forest ecosystem.

As a tropical tree, buttonwood does not grow north of Florida's Cape Canaveral and Cedar Key. From this northern limit, buttonwood growth in the brackish tidal lagoons and bays ranges to the Florida Keys and Bermuda, the West Indies, Central and South America, and western Africa. Buttonwood is highly tolerant of full sun, sandy soils, salty conditions, and the soils of shaded and moist oak hammocks. They are found on the edges of salt flats, rocklands of the Florida Keys, borders of fresh and brackish marshes, edges of hammocks, sometimes on spoil and other disturbed areas in South Florida.

Buttonwood is often used for seaside landscaping. The wood was used for firewood, cabinets, and making charcoal. It is very strong wood and ideal for smoking meats and fish because it burns slowly and releases generous quantities of heat. Buttonwood is tough and long lasting in the landscape. It can withstand the rigors of urban settings and makes a durable street or parking lot tree.


 

Identifying Characteristics

Size/Form: Buttonwood is a small tree that seldom reaches heights of 40'. It is usually small and shrub-like.
Leaves: The leaves are simple, alternately arranged, persistent, and are 1" to 4" long by ½" to 1 ½" wide. The oblong shaped leaves usually have dark, shiny green upper surfaces while the underneath surface is paler and smooth with silky hairs. The leaf base is wedged with a pair of marginal glands. The leaf tip is tapering and the margin is smooth.
Fruit: The fruit is a tiny reddish, leathery drupe. The scale-like drupes are borne in heads that resemble a cone that is 1" in diameter.
Bark: The dark-brown to black bark has irregular fissures that form flat, interlacing, scaly ridges.
Habitat: Buttonwood grows in the silty, muddy shorelines of tidal bays and lagoons, commonly landward of the fringe of mangrove community and above high tides. They are also found on the edges of hammocks, salt flats, marshes, and sandy rocklands.

 

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Fruit

 

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