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Clethra alnifolia

Common Name(s):
Clethra, Summersweet, Sweet pepperbush
'Hummingbird', 'Paniculata', 'Pinkspire' , 'Rosea', 'Crystalinia'
Native Plants, Shrubs

Clethra alnifolia, commonly called summersweet, is a deciduous shrub that is native to swampy woodlands, wet marshes, stream banks and seashores, often in sandy soils, along the coast from Maine to Florida and west to Texas. It is a rounded, suckering, densely-branched, deciduous shrub that typically grows to 3-6’ (less frequently to 8’) tall.  Its bark is gray and loosely striped.

The plant spreads by stolons.  A very hardy, carefree plant.  It is salt spray tolerant.  Tolerates wet sites very well.

Regions:  Piedmont, Coastal Plains

Seasons of Interest:

Foliage: Fall, yellow  Bloom: Summer   Fruit: Summer-Fall

Seed: Capsule

Play Value: Wildlife Enhancement

Wildlife Value:   The flowers of the Sweet pepperbush attracts bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds.  Its fruit attracts birds. This plant is resistant to damage by deer.

Insects, Diseases, or Other Plant Problems:  Spider mites may be a concern in dry conditions.

Compare this plant to: Clethra alnifolia

3-8 ft.
The Sweet pepperbush has alternate, simple, errate, obovate to oblong, glossy medium to dark green leaves (to 3-4” long) turn variable but generally attractive shades of yellow to golden brown in fall. The leaves are late to leaf out in spring.
The Sweet pepperbush is noted for producing a mid to late summer bloom of sweetly fragrant white flowers which appear in narrow, upright panicles (racemes to 2-6" long). It has five white, pink or rose petals that occur on current seasons growth. The flowers give way to dark brown seed capsules (1/8" diameter) which may persist into winter.
3 to 9
The Sweet pepperbush is easily grown in average, medium to wet soils in full sun to part shade. It prefers part shade and consistently moist, acidic, sandy soils. Soils should not be allowed to dry out. It will tolerate clay soils. It will also tolerate full shade. Promptly remove root suckers unless naturalized look is desired. Propagation can be done by cuttings. Prune if needed in late winter.
Dense oval to upright shrub; rounded top; often suckers to form a colony
Partial shade; moist to wet soil; tolerates salt spray
Intense, spicy fragrance white racemes in summer
4-6 ft.
play, wet soil, deciduous, wet sites, bees, deer resistant, native, birds, playground, pollinator, hummingbirds, butterflies, wildlife, children’s garden, wet

NCCES plant id: 465

Clethra alnifolia Flower spike
Tom Potterfield, CC BY-NC-SA - 2.0
Clethra alnifolia C. alnifolia in the wild
John Brandauer, CC BY-NC-ND - 2.0
Clethra alnifolia C. alnifolia fall color
Geneva Wirth, CC BY-NC-2.0