September 19, 2017

All Dressed in Fur

Spiraea tomentosa - Steeplebush

Spiraea tomentosa – Steeplebush | Photo courtesy of Glen Mittelhauser/Maine Natural History Observatory

If you check the underside of the leaves of Spiraea tomentosa, you should see white or brownish ‘fur’ and the source of the botanical name. The ‘fur’ is tomentum, hence the tomentosa. Rosy meadowsweet is a member of the rose family – specifically a shrub – and grows up to 4 feet in height, with a preferred locale of meadows, wetlands and marshes. In other words, it likes moist soil and full sun. Its pink flowers form spires that inspire its other common name: steeplebush. Found throughout most of the nation east of the Mississippi and some points west, this native plant has another name, this one referring to its hard stems: hardhack. According to Go Botany, S. tomentosa “is a food plant for caterpillars of the Columbia silkmoth (Hyalophora columbia), a large saturniid documented from Maine.” So it’s attractive to butterflies and humans. Nice.

Wild Wednesday is a collaboration of Garden Maine and Glen Mittelhauser of the nonprofit Maine Natural History Observatory, www.mainenaturalhistory.org.