Comprehensive DescriptionRead full entry
General: White Alder Family (Clethraceae). Coastal sweet pepperbush is a large deciduous shrub that grows to 2.5 m tall. The bark is smooth, reddish-orange or gray in color, and 2 to 3 mm in diameter. Twigs are reddish-orange covered with dense white hairs. Leaves are alternate, simple, 5 to 8 cm long, and toothed toward their tips. They are medium to dark green, turn golden yellow in the fall and have appressed white hairs along the midvein. Flowers are up to 1 mm long and 0.8 mm wide, composed of 5 white fused petals. Seventeen to one hundred fragrant flowers form the bottlebrush-like inflorescences that are about 10 cm long and 2 cm wide. The fruiting stalk has many miniature oval 3-seeded capsules that are winter-persistent and are good identification features. Coastal sweet pepperbush produces leaves in late spring, flowers in July and August, and sets fruit in September and October. The yellow fall foliage persists for two to four weeks.
Distribution: This is the only species in the genus Clethra that is native to North America. It occurs from southern Maine and New Hampshire, south to eastern Texas and Florida. For current distribution, please consult the Plant Profile page for this species on the PLANTS Web site (http://plants.usda.gov).
Habitat: Coastal sweet pepperbush is found in wet woods, thickets, marshes, swales and bogs, along lake and stream edges, and near rocks in water. It is typically not a dominant species in plant communities. Common overstory associates include cypress, Atlantic white cedar, coastal pine species, red maple, magnolias, and beech.