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Vick, Albert F. W.
Clethra alnifolia L.
Coastal sweet pepperbush, Clethra, Summer sweet
Clethraceae (Sweet-Pepperbush Family)
Synonym(s): Clethra alnifolia var. tomentosa, Clethra tomentosa
USDA Symbol: clal3
USDA Native Status: L48 (N), CAN (N)
Coastal sweet-pepper or summer sweet is a narrow, 6-12 ft., deciduous shrub, which often spreads into mounded clumps. A tall, many-branched, leafy shrub with spike-like, upright clusters of fragrant white flowers. The shrub has erect, multiple stems; exfoliating bark; and simple, oval, toothed leaves which turn dull yellow to orange in fall. The dense, narrow, cylindric flower spikes are often clustered together at branch ends. Fragrant flowers are white and are followed by brown capsules which persist through winter.
This shrub forms sizable patches and is remarkably free of any disease, insect, or physiological problems. Its dry fruiting capsules remain long after flowering and help identify this plant in winter. Mountain Pepperbush (C. acuminata) has more pointed leaves and is found in southern mountains.
Plant CharacteristicsDuration: Perennial Habit: Shrub Leaf Retention: Deciduous Leaf Arrangement: Alternate Leaf Complexity: Simple Leaf Venation: Pinnate Leaf Margin: Serrate Breeding System:
Flowers Bisexual Inflorescence: Spike Size Notes:
Normally 3 to 6 ft, but can reach 12 ft. Leaf:
Green, turning pale gold in fall. New growth bronzy. Autumn Foliage:
Flowers in 3 to 8 inch spikes
Brown Size Class:
3-6 ft. , 6-12 ft.
Bloom InformationBloom Color: White , Pink
Bloom Time: Jul , Aug
Bloom Notes: Blooms on new growth
, VA Canada: NS Native Distribution: MS
n. through eastern portions of the coastal states to s. ME; also locally in LA
& TX Native Habitat:
Swamps; sea shores; stream banks; hillside bogs
Growing ConditionsWater Use: High
Light Requirement: Sun , Part Shade , Shade
Soil Moisture: Moist , Wet
Soil pH: Acidic (pH<6.8)
CaCO3 Tolerance: Low
Drought Tolerance: Low
Soil Description: Many wet to moist, acid soils, including sands and clays.
Conditions Comments: Excellent for coastal gardens due to salt-spray tolerance.
BenefitUse Ornamental: Fragrant, showy summer flowers. Outstanding fall color.
Use Wildlife: Bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds use flowers. Many birds and mammals eat the fruit.
Conspicuous Flowers: yes
Fragrant Flowers: yes
Interesting Foliage: yes
Attracts: Birds , Butterflies , Hummingbirds
Clump Division , Root Division , Seeds , Softwood Cuttings Description:
Propagate by seed or softwood cuttings, with or without hormone treatment, under mist. Sow seed on sand. Seed Treatment:
Tiny seeds require no pretreatment. Commercially Avail:
This versatile, carefree shrub
responds well to pruning.
Mr. Smarty Plants says
Native shrub to replace non-native azaleas.
February 10, 2009
I want to replace my two dozen azaleas this spring (I think they're unattractive once the flowers fall off). I like the multiseason characteristics of weigela (midnight wine, W&R), but want to go na...
view the full question and answer
National Wetland Indicator Status
This information is derived from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers National Wetland Plant List, Version 3.1
(Lichvar, R.W. 2013. The National Wetland Plant List: 2013 wetland ratings. Phytoneuron 2013-49: 1-241). Click here
for map of regions.
Record Last Modified: 2013-09-08
Research By: TWC Staff