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Clethra alnifolia (Coastal pepperbush)
Vick, Albert F. W.

Clethra alnifolia

Clethra alnifolia L.

Coastal Pepperbush, Coastal Sweet Pepperbush, Coastal Sweet Pepper, Alderleaf Pepperbush, Alderleaf Clethra, Clethra, Summer Sweet

Clethraceae (Clethra 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.


From the Image Gallery

60 photo(s) available in the Image Gallery

Plant Characteristics

Duration: Perennial
Habit: Shrub
Leaf Retention: Deciduous
Leaf Arrangement: Alternate
Leaf Complexity: Simple
Leaf Venation: Pinnate
Leaf Margin: Serrate
Breeding System: Flowers Bisexual
Inflorescence: Spike
Fruit Type: Capsule
Size Notes: Normally 3 to 6 feet tall, but can reach 12 feet.
Leaf: Green, turning pale gold in fall. New growth bronzy.
Autumn Foliage: yes
Flower: Flowers in 3 to 8 inch spikes
Fruit: Brown

Bloom Information

Bloom Color: White , Pink
Bloom Time: Jul , Aug
Bloom Notes: Blooms on new growth.


USA: AL , CT , DE , FL , GA , LA , MA , MD , ME , MS , NC , NH , NJ , NY , PA , RI , SC , TN , TX , VA
Canada: NS
Native Distribution: MS to FL, 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 Conditions

Water 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.


Use 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

Value to Beneficial Insects

Special Value to Native Bees
Special Value to Bumble Bees
Special Value to Honey Bees

This information was provided by the Pollinator Program at The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.


Propagation Material: 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: yes
Maintenance: This versatile, carefree shrub responds well to pruning.

Find Seed or Plants

View propagation protocol from Native Plants Network.

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.

From the National Organizations Directory

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

Native Plant Center at Westchester Community College, The - Valhalla, NY
Delaware Nature Society - Hockessin, DE
United States Botanic Garden - Washington, DC
Crosby Arboretum - Picayune, MS
Georgia Native Plant Society - Atlanta, GA
Mt. Cuba Center - Hockessin, DE


Bibref 1620 - Gardening with Native Plants of the South (Reprint Edition) (2009) Wasowski, S. with A. Wasowski
Bibref 841 - Native Alternatives to Invasive Plants (2006) Burrell, C. C.

Search More Titles in Bibliography

From the Archive

Wildflower Newsletter 1998 VOL. 15, NO.5 - Native Shrubs Providing Landscape Heritage and Habitat, Executive Director\'s Re...

Additional resources

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


Record Modified: 2015-09-30
Research By: TWC Staff

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