Clethra alnifolia

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Clethra alnifolia
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Asterids
Order: Ericales
Family: Clethraceae
Genus: Clethra
Species: C. alnifolia
Binomial name
Clethra alnifolia
  • Clethra angustifolia Raf. nom. illeg.
  • Clethra bracteata Raf.
  • Clethra dentata Aiton
  • Clethra incana Pers. nom. illeg.
  • Clethra paniculata Aiton
  • Clethra pubescens Willd.
  • Clethra pumila Raf.
  • Clethra tomentosa Lam.

Clethra alnifolia (coastal sweetpepperbush or summersweet), is a species of flowering plant in the genus Clethra of the family Clethraceae, native to eastern North America from southern Nova Scotia and Maine south to northern Florida, and west to eastern Texas.

It is a deciduous shrub growing to 1.5–3 m (4 ft 11 in–9 ft 10 in) tall. The leaves are obovate to oblong, 4-10 cm long and 2-4 cm broad, with a serrated margin; they are green turning yellow-golden during the autumn. The flowers are white or very pale pink, 5-10 mm in diameter, and have a sweet, somewhat cloying fragrance, the flowers attractive to bumblebees; they are produced in racemes up to 15 cm long and 2 cm broad in late summer, depending on the cultivar. The "pepper" part of the common name derives from the mature fruits, capsules which have a vague resemblance to peppercorns, however, with no element of spiciness.

'Ruby Spice' flowers

It grows in wet forests, pine flatwoods, wetlands, bogs and can be seen alongside woodland streams. It prefers a neutral to acid soil. The Nova Scotia population is small and endangered.


Sweetpepperbush is typically used as a shrub for natural gardens, or is placed alongside a stream or pond to delay erosion. It does not leaf out until very late in the season, limiting its landscaping use. Several cultivars have been selected for garden use, including 'Ruby Spice', with strongly pink flowers; 'Hummingbird', for its dwarf size; and 'September Beauty'.


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