Clethra alnifolia, commonly called Sweet Pepperbush, is in the family Clethraceae. Sweet Pepperbush grows in mounded clumps and can reach a height of 10-feet tall. It is native to North America from Maine to Florida and as far west as Texas. Sweet Pepperbush is a rounded, suckering, densely branched deciduous shrub that thrives in acidic, consistently moist soil. It can grow in full sun to part shade but prefers more shade than sun. It will not tolerate a hot, dry spot. Sweet Pepperbush responds well to pruning. The sweetly fragrant white flowers appear from mid-July to late-August. plants.ces.NCSU.edu
The genus name comes from the Greek word klethra, the name for alder which the leaves resemble. www.missouribotanicalgarden.org
Sweet Pepperbush has no serious insect problems. Spider mites may appear in dry conditions. It is an effective hedge when planted in mass. It is at home in cottage, native, pollinator, and wild gardens. Sweet Pepperbush is a favorite of hummingbirds and native bees. The fruit is eaten by local birds and small mammals. plants.ces.NCSU.edu
Three cultivars will be added to the Brunswick County Botanical Garden this spring. ‘Ruby Spice’ is the darkest of the rose-pink cultivars. It was discovered as a sport (variation) of C.alnifolia ‘Pink Spire.’ ‘Sugartina’ is the trade name for ‘Crystalinia.’ It holds its shape without pruning at 2-feet to 3-feet tall and wide. The flowers are 4-inches to 6-inches long. ‘Crystalinia’ sold under the trade name ‘Sugartina’ and was developed through a breeding program at NC State University. ‘Vanilla Spice’ grows 3-feet to 6-feet tall. It has the largest blooms, 10-inches to 12-inches long, which are double the size of other Pepperbushes. ‘Caleb’ is commonly sold under the trade name ‘Vanilla Spice.’ www.missouribotanicalgarden.org.
Information by Jeanne Pavero, Photos by NC Extension Garden Toolbox