I’m a gonna larn ya’ onna buttonwood a ways heya.
Conocarpus erectus. Buttonwood.

It is a subtropical coastal tree that is usually classified among the mangroves. But it doesn’t grow in the water as a mangrove does. If allowed to grow in ideal conditions it is a straight 30-40 foot tree. It’s native to Florida, on the coasts, up to Cape Canaveral on the east and Cedar key on the west.
We begin our trek down the buttonwood trail with this tree

A unique feature of the buttonwood is the ability of its wood to last as deadwood. It’s a very dense wood with tight grain. It’s ideal for carving as it takes detail well. It’s a good firewood and burns slow; it was used extensively in smoking fish and such.


side view



this will be the front.


Here’s a detail of the deadwood.
A buttonwood growing in ideal conditions will grow straight and large but, one growing in, say, the Florida Keys, is a different thing altogether.
They tend to be twisted and gnarly (dude) with lots of deadwood and sometimes just a sliver of living tissue.
In the Keys it is the hurricanes and the rock they grow in (one uses hammers to collect there, and pick axes and crowbars) and the salt spray and crocodilians and clumsy tourists that cause this natural dwarfing.

This illustrates one of those occurrences.
The buttonwood is a plant that can sprout roots from, it seems, anywhere on its bark. I have seen a collected one in a mist-system propagating environment where the trunk was covered in thousands (this was a big tree) of spaghetti like roots all up and down the trunk. It was definitely odd . Needless to say, an air layer works really well.
Cuttings are easy too. Even with big ones.

Trimming. This branch is straight an too big to bend so….




This one will bend


and this one will bend,surprisingly, a lot. But only with the proper technique.
First, defoliate.


The buttonwood leaf is unique in that it is an organ evolved for expelling the salt that tends to be present where it grows.
If you observe one in its natural habitat you will actually see the droplets of salty water at these ducts. The leaves also tend to be thicker and more leathery.

It’s tough to see in a nursery plant. If you look at the leaf margin it is there.

And I cut just beyond it.


the silvery thing in the crotch of the petiole and twig is the new bud.


There’s a view of the soil.

I don’t rake it out but wash it with a hose.


trim it gently. Can you see a face? I can.



cool or what?




Some views in the training pot. I used just my standard mix. Some Florida people will use more organic in a buttonwood but I’m hoping for growth. So I will have to watch wilt but I’ll get that growth quicker.

A buttonwood is brittle. Almost like a carrot sometimes. If one massages the branches before wire is placed on it (Kinda like pre-bending it) the bending will go easier.

This branches final placement will surprise you.


wired but pre-placement.


This is the current front. It may change.

Some details. That bark stripped branch will be carved when the wood dries a bit.

It’s hard to see the bends in 2d without doing some odd shots. This is top down.


Side. This could be a good front.




this could end up being the front too.


Let’s do some repotting, shall we?


These two little buttonwoods are declining. The first one more so than the second one.
I think I’ve lost the whole limb on the front left side

Here’s why. No drainage, it’s been staying too wet.
I know that seems counterintuitive, being the buttonwood is a coastal plant,but, I’ve seen this kill a buttonwood. Especially in the winter.


Unclogged. The mix I had used seemed to be more organic too, which helped lead to that clog.

20120807-153953.jpgrepotted at a different inclination. I’ll probably lose the living vein on the left. But one must make lemonade (or margaritas) out of lemons.

This tree has better roots. It’s just time to repot.


I see you…





Still a good root system but it was a little root bound.

This branch is weakening.

The one by my thumb is about dead. They both come from the same spot so it would not surprise me if the right hand one dies too.

I defoliate to stimulate it. This does not work with every tree though. Know your species before you kill them. And do things in their proper season. It is summer in Florida. I can do this to this buttonwood now.

And I put it right back in its spot on the bench. Some trees go in the shade but, the combination of root pruning and defoliation balances the tree out so it can go back where it was living.
The most distinctive feature of the button wood is its naturally occurring deadwood. The contortions and odd shapes are what give these trees the aged look we so covet in bonsai.
If you scroll back to the very first tree you may be surprised (you may not)if I said that the deadwood on it was carved. Go ahead and look. I don’t mind.
It was a nursery grown tree that I have created by allowing it to grow and then killing the branches I needed for deadwood. I think it looks good. How about you?

14 thoughts

  1. We have a nice buttonwood bonsai that we just repotted. We live in AZ and therefore the growing season is just beginning. After repotting the leaves are quite wilty and we were wondering if defoliating it would help or hurt it. Also we are wondering if fertilizers would help.


    1. Buttonwoods should be repotted at the hottest time really, with nighttime temps in the 70’s. but it should pull through if it’s healthy. Defoliated it and hit it with an organic fertilizer like kelp liquid or fish emulsion


  2. Adam, is this tree different than a silver buttonwood? I know they have silver buttonwoods at Home Depot but would love one from the wild. I live in the Florida Keys (Marathon) and would love to find one that I can collect. Any suggestions?
    Thanks, Paul!


    1. The silver buttonwood is either a variety of the green or it’s own species, depending on who you talk to. They don’t ramify as well as the green but they have similar growth habits.
      As for collecting, it’s best to go on private land with permission. I don’t know if anyone you can ask though, I’m sorry.
      Get a boat or kayak and scout the area then find the land owner and ask. Like they say, if you don’t ask, you don’t get.


      1. Noticing that you’d said to another reply that Buttonwoods should really be repotted at the hottest time, does that mean that collecting them at that time is also optimal or at least acceptable? Am hoping to acquire one from someone who’s got a bunch on his property and will be seeing him in the next couple weeks, want to leave that visit with a buttonwood-in-a-bag 😀

        Hope all’s well, I’ve yet to catch-up on the horse-shit fauxrage but am planning to put a few more rants out, still quite upset over it (and at you-know-who for being silent throughout, so cowardly) As usual, thanks for the blog posts, videos and help in the forums, you’re the man Adam!!!


      2. The hottest time of the year is also the best time to collect them.
        As for the false allegations, I think the whole world is waiting for proof and a statement from those involved. Except those that have already made up their minds and condemned me with no proof.
        Thank you for your support my friend v


  3. >The hottest time of the year is also the best time to collect them.
    >As for the false allegations, I think the whole world is waiting for proof and a statement from >those involved. Except those that have already made up their minds and condemned me with no proof.
    >Thank you for your support my friend v

    Just raced here, hoping to delete my Q as I watch videos every AM with coffee and am mid-way through your interview with Mary M right now, where you&her mention ‘hottest day’ of the year is best!! 😀

    And yeah, I hope the professionals who put out that vague, dog-whistle/incindiary statement should be taken to task either legally or in the court of public opinion, my father had visited from out-of-state so I was taken away from the drama for a bit but am very eager to get back in to see if that kid broke his silence, if he hasn’t that’s so close to acknowledging there’s no ‘there’ there that I don’t know what is! But the officials should be held liable IMO, hell for all I know that’s already begun I sadly am not aware of the newest developments my dad’s trip (and I have to walk him around, he knows nobody else in FL) began right as MM was releasing his revised statement on /r..

    The people who made up minds, despite not even having any idea what the actual charges were, are moronic self-righteous “SJW’s” and sadly are everywhere nowadays it seems, I’ve even seen that type of behavior in my otherwise-punk little brother (jumping on a high-horse at any inkling that some non-white-male group may be unhappy!) but the worst part about this nonsense is there was no reason for that nonsense in the 1st place…hope the ‘pro’s’ involved w/ that statement get everything they deserve.


  4. Great Post. I am new to bonsai and have a few buttonwoods. You advise it is best to plant them at the hottest time of the year? What about defoliation? Can that be done now to start some new growth for the spring? One of the plants I have has old leaves and not much else and most of the branches are pretty leggy. Will not repot until the summer…. Like the way you do your bonsai and am learning a lot. Any advise would be appreciated. Thanks


    1. You’ll need to look at the new buds. If they are colorful and shiny, they are about to push new growth. If not, hit it with fertilizer, and wait a few more weeks until you see that new growth, then defoliate. Don’t cut back yet though. Do that after the new leaves get full sized and harden off. Hit it with more fertilizer and cut it back as far as the branches need for taper


      1. Good Deal. AND Thanks. Cleaned all the algae off and fertilized yesterday so will look for the new growth in a few weeks. And I’ll keep checking out the blog. Like your style in bonsai and in wring.


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