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Comptonia peregrina (Sweet-fern)
Vick, Albert F. W.

Comptonia peregrina

Comptonia peregrina (L.) J.M. Coult.

Sweet-fern, Sweetfern

Myricaceae (Bayberry Family)

Synonym(s): Comptonia peregrina var. aspleniifolia, Myrica aspleniifolia, Myrica aspleniifolia var. tomentosa, Myrica peregrina

USDA Symbol: COPE80

USDA Native Status: L48 (N), CAN (N)

A small, aromatic mound-shaped shrub, 2-5 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.


From the Image Gallery

5 photo(s) available in the Image Gallery

Plant Characteristics

Duration: Perennial
Habit: Shrub
Leaf Retention: Deciduous
Leaf Arrangement: Alternate
Leaf Complexity: Simple
Fruit Type: Nut
Size Notes: Up to about 5 feet tall.
Leaf: Green
Autumn Foliage: yes
Fruit: Green, Brown - nutlets.

Bloom Information

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


USA: CT , DC , DE , GA , IL , IN , KY , MA , MD , ME , MI , MN , NC , NH , NJ , NY , OH , PA , RI , SC , TN , VA , VT , WI , WV
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)

Gray Hairstreak
(Strymon melinus)

Larval Host
Learn more at BAMONA


Description: Root cuttings are the principal means of propagation. Place horizontally, 1/2 in. deep, in sand: sphagnum. Stem cuttings must be taken from juvenile growth. Collect juvenile stems 3 in. or less in length. Germination of seed is difficult.
Commercially Avail: yes

Mr. Smarty Plants says

Attracting butterflies in Tennessee
July 03, 2009
What flowers and plants do the caterpillars in Tennessee eat? And do you know what butterflies live in Tipton Co. Tennessee?
view the full question and answer

From the National Organizations Directory

According to the species list provided by Affiliate Organizations, this plant is on display at the following locations:

Delaware Nature Society - Hockessin, DE
Mt. Cuba Center - Hockessin, DE


Bibref 1186 - Field Guide to Moths of Eastern North America (2005) Covell, C.V., Jr.
Bibref 1185 - Field Guide to Western Butterflies (Peterson Field Guides) (1999) Opler, P.A. and A.B. Wright

Search More Titles in Bibliography

Web Reference

Webref 38 - Flora of North America (2019) Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis, MO & Harvard University Herbaria, Cambridge, MA.
Webref 23 - Southwest Environmental Information Network (2009) SEINet - Arizona Chapter

Additional resources

USDA: Find Comptonia peregrina in USDA Plants
FNA: Find Comptonia peregrina in the Flora of North America (if available)
Google: Search Google for Comptonia peregrina


Record Modified: 2023-01-11
Research By: TWC Staff

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