Few shrubs put on a show in midsummer, which makes Clethra alnifolia a unique native plant. Found growing wild along the length of the Eastern Seaboard and around the Gulf of Mexico, C. alnifolia is one species that has crossed over into the garden trade as a choice addition. Also known as summersweet or sweet pepperbush, the plant is hardy to Zone 3 and can grow up to 8 feet tall with a spread of 6 feet in optimal conditions. In the wild, those conditions are often met on the shores of rivers or lakes, in swamps or moist woodlands, which means a moist, acidic location in full sun or partial shade in the garden is ideal. In full sun, the foliage will be dense, providing a lush backdrop to the racemes of fragrantly spicy flowers that resemble bottle brushes. It is a pollinator’s delight, buzzing with insects when in full bloom. Interestingly, it is one of the few shrubs that blossom with abandon even in the shade. And that “pepperbush” reference? The seed capsules look like peppercorns, although that is where the resemblance ends.
Wild Wednesday is a collaboration of Garden Maine and Glen Mittelhauser of the nonprofit Maine Natural History Observatory, www.mainenaturalhistory.org.
In 2012, Glen began working to catalog the plants of Baxter State Park, which you can read about here and find out how to sponsor a plant of your own. Courtesy of a poll taken in 2012, Garden Maine is sponsoring this lovely plant.