Bogs and Acidic Peatlands of Southern New England by Marsha C. Salett
Clethra alnifolia L.
CLETHRACEAE (White Alder Family)
EtymologyClethra derives from klethra, the Greek word for alder; alnifolia means with alder-like leaves, from the Latin: Alnus = alder + folium = leaf.
Synonyms (Common Name)White Alder, Summer-sweet
DescriptionOne of the most fragrant shrubs of summer, sweet pepperbush is a deciduous, broad-leaved shrub with flaky, gray bark. It grows to 10' tall, often forming large thickets. Sweet pepperbush is easy recognized by the terminal spikes of dried fruit capsules that remain on the shrub all winter into summer; it is not uncommon to see last year's seed heads alongside new flowers.
Wetland indicator statusFAC+
Plant Heightto 10 feet
LeavesDeciduous, alternate, simple, toothed margins become entire toward the base, 1-4" long; obovate to oblong, broadest above the middle with a pointed tip and tapered base; form rosette-like cluster of 4-5 leaves at ends of twigs; yellow in autumn.
Flower/InflorescenceWhite, small (to 1/4"), 5 petals, protruding pistil; in erect terminal spikes to 6" long; spicy-fragrant.
Flowering PeriodJuly-September
FruitSpherical capsule, 1/8" in diameter, with three parts; resemble peppercorns on a spike.
HabitatWooded swamps, shrub swamps, pond and stream margins, woods.
RangeSouthern Maine to Florida; chiefly along the coastal plain.
(c) 1998-2006 Marsha C. Salett