Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center - The University of Texas at Austin information

 Native Plant Database

Comptonia peregrina

Sweet-fern, Sweetfern

Myricaceae (Bayberry Family)

Comptonia peregrina (Sweet-fern)
Vick, Albert F. W.
A small, aromatic mound-shaped shrub, 2-4 ft. tall, occuring in dense colonies. Multiple stems with loose, spreading branches. Long, narrow, olive-green leaves, the edges of which have rolled back edges and rounded, fern-like division. Flowers are brown catkins that appear before the leaves unfold. A small nut is enclosed in a bur-like husk.

Sweet-fern is a member of the wax-myrtle or bayberry family (family Myricaceae), which occurs nearly worldwide, with about 40 species of small trees and shrubs; 5 native tree species and 3 shrub species in North America. The leaves are very aromatic when crushed.

Image Gallery:

5 photo(s) available

Plant Characteristics

Duration: Perennial
Habit: Shrub
Leaf: Green
Autumn Foliage: yes
Fruit: Green, Brown
Size Class: 3-6 ft.

Bloom Information

Bloom Color: White , Green
Bloom Time: May , Jun , Jul , Aug


USA: CT , DE , GA , IL , IN , KY , ME , MD , MA , MI , MN , NH , NJ , NY , NC , OH , PA , RI , SC , TN , VT , VA , WV , WI , DC
Canada: NB , NS , ON , PE
Native Distribution: N.S. to Sask., s. to GA, KY, n. IL & n. MN
Native Habitat: Dry, open woods; roadsides; sandy barrens

Growing Conditions

Water Use: Low
Light Requirement: Part Shade
Soil Moisture: Dry
Soil pH: Acidic (pH<6.8)
CaCO3 Tolerance: Low
Soil Description: Sandy, acid soils.
Conditions Comments: No serious disease or insect problems.


Use Wildlife: Throughout its range, the grey hairstreak feeds on many families of plants. For unknown reasons the grey hairstreak is restricted to feeding on sweetfern in the northern limits of its range. (Canadian BIF)
Attracts: Birds , Butterflies
Larval Host: Grey Hairstreak butterfly (Strymon melinus)

Butterflies and Moths of North America (BAMONA)

Comptonia peregrina is a larval host and/or nectar source for:
Gray Hairstreak
(Strymon melinus)

Larval Host
Learn more at BAMONA

Last Update: 2016-07-13