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Buttonwood Bonsai Tree

The buttonwood bonsai tree is a common name.   There are many plants with the common name of  "buttonwood".

For bonsai enthusiasts in the northern hemisphere, Conocarpus erectus (Combretum Family) is one of the most popular collected tropical trees. 

They grow along the shoreline in Florida near the mangroves.

Some mangroves have biologically adapted to grow in the water, while the Conocarpus e. (a close relative) prefers a little higher ground.

buttonwood, buttonwood bonsai, bonsai tree

As bonsai, this tree almost always have beautiful driftwood.  Many of them are yamadori, others have been carved to look like old trees.

Once you’ve seen the buttonwood as a bonsai, you may think all of them mature as gnarly, twisted, leaning trees full of dead wood.

This is not the case.

The tree is also used as a landscape tree inland and has a perfectly straight growth pattern. It is often pruned and kept as a hedge.

Buttonwood bonsai trees  are often collected from the wild where they are most likely to have character and age.

In a shoreline environment, they often have unique shapes and ‘driftwood’ trunks. They have endured years of windblown sand, tropical storms, hurricanes, droughts and floods.

The Florida Keys are the perfect place for such beauties to develop. It is important to know, "collecting" any shore line native plants is illegal in Florida, unless you are on private property with permission.

Today, more and more artists are using urban yamadori and nursery stock to create these beauties.

Buttonwood Bonsai Tree

buttonwood, conocarpus flower

Not sure if your tree is a buttonwood bonsai tree? The leaves can be quite different from one tree to the next.

There are a couple of easier ways to tell. The first way is always to identify it by the flower.

buttonwood, buttonwood leaves, conocarpus leaves

Secondly, by two distinguishing glands - one on either side of the leaf stem (petiole).

Some say these petiole glands or “buttons” are where the common name originates.

Others insist the fruit with its round, compact, cone-like structure is the answer.

An additional story credits the hard wood of Conocarpus, which made it valuable as wood for buttons in the late nineteenth century. This seems the most likely to me.

National Champion

buttonwood, conocarpus national champion

This amazing ancient tree resides on the corner of Leon and Washington Streets in Key West, FL.

It is estimated to be "hundreds of years old".

buttonwood, bonsai tree,buttonwood, conocarpu

This is a close up of the gnarled trunk. The tree is located several blocks inland from the shoreline. It has been affected very little by the blowing sand. No driftwood on this tree.

Every time I go to Key West, I make a point of stopping by for a visit.  I’ve seen it many times and in 2008, I noticed a recently added plaque - 'National Champion.'   Nice going old tree!

Conocarpus erectus has attracted bonsai hobbyists since the 1950s.

Through years of experimenting and sharing knowledge, tropical bonsai artists have developed techniques for both design and culture of buttonwood bonsai.

This buttonwood bonsai tree can be styled in as many bonsai styles as you can imagine.

Where To Go From Here

To learn more about the buttonwood, see Buttonwood Care.

And don't miss two buttonwood bonsai stories

Also see Ed Trout's buttonwood bonsai tree contribution as guest author

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