Q: Along a creek bed near Yatesville, Georgia, I came upon a low growing plant with a pretty white flower that I cannot identify. The bloom was a little smaller than a golf ball. It looked like tiny honeysuckle blooms that made a complete ball shape. The stamens came from the center of each little tubular throat. It looked like a fiber optic display. There were several of the balls in a small cluster.
A: You found a buttonbush, Cephalanthus occidentalis. I recently discovered one growing next to a creek on my brother’s property near Rome. In fact, they are almost always associated with a creek or pond bank.
This is one of those nifty native plants that I wish were more available at retail nurseries. The white “Sputnik” flowers are distinctive in late spring and summer. I guess the problem with the native plant is that it is sort of open and “rangy” for most of the year.
Keep your eyes peeled for a compact form of the plant. Virginia sweetspire (Itea) and summersweet (Clethra) both had the same ragged disposition before plant breeders improved them to make the outstanding shrubs we see at nurseries today.