Buttonwood

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

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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

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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.

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side view

 

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this will be the front.

 

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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.

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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.

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

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snip.

 

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This one will bend

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

 

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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.

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

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And I cut just beyond it.

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

 

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There’s a view of the soil.

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

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

 

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cool or what?

 

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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.

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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.

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This branches final placement will surprise you.

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wired but pre-placement.

 

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This is the current front. It may change.

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

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

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Side. This could be a good front.

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rear

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this could end up being the front too.

 

Let’s do some repotting, shall we?

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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

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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.

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Clogged

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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.

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

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I see you…

 

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snip!

 

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

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This branch is weakening.

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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.

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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.

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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?

About adamaskwhy

Visual artist specializing in bonsai, mostly.
This entry was posted in Advanced basics and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Buttonwood

  1. Mary Miller says:

    Very good explanations Adam!

  2. david says:

    Good , now i need a Buttonwood ……..

  3. Ron says:

    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.

    • adamaskwhy says:

      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

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