Botanical Name: Ceanothus americanus
Common Name: New Jersey Tea, Redroot, Wild Snowbell
Description: Looking for a beautiful small shrub that blooms fragrant white flowers and attracts all kinds of pollinators?? Then New Jersey Tea may be for you.
Don’t be fooled by the common name, this deciduous shrub is a Florida native. It’s an upright mounding shrubby perennial with fine textured gray-green leaves. The foliage is serrate and reticulate with the veins marked by shallow grooves. In late spring to early summer, plants are covered with many white rounded flower panicles. The individual florets are about ¼” wide with 5 petals and a pleasing fragrance. The flowers transform into rose colored 3-lobed seed capsules. Mature capsules become dark brown and split ejecting their seed several feet. Young twigs are noticeably yellow and stand out in winter. Plants thrive in sun to part sun and average to dry soil. Young plants expend a good bit of energy producing deep roots. As a result they tend to get off to a slow start. When roots are established, the upper half of the plant begins to flourish. At that time, it matures to about 3′ tall and wide. Tolerates drought, poor soils, alkaline soils, and controlled burns. Foliage is resistant to insects.
Easily grown in average, dry to medium, well-drained soils in sun, part sun, or part shade. Best in sandy loams or rocky soils with good drainage. Thick, woody, red taproots go deep and help plant withstand droughty conditions, but make established shrubs difficult to transplant. Its natural habitat is in Florida’s sandhill and open well-drained woodland habitats. The deep taproot makes the plant excellent for stabilizing soil on steep slopes.
Bees, wasps, flies, beetles, hairstreak butterflies, hummingbirds, and other pollinators seek nectar and pollen from the flowers. It is the host plant for Spring Azures, Summer Azures, Mottled Duskywing, and Gray Hairstreak. Mammals (elk, deer, rabbits and cattle), Wild Turkey and Bobwhite Quail graze on the plant. In other words, this is not deer resistant.
This Buckthorn Family member is one of the few non-legumes that can fix nitrogen. This gives the plant an edge especially in a disturbed site.
Even though the Atlas of Florida Plants shows this is native in many coastal Florida counties, I can’t find much info on its salt water tolerance. Let me know if you have experience growing it on the coast. Until I get more info, I’m going to put it at moderate tolerance for salty wind and no tolerance for salt/brackish water inundation or direct salt spray.
Plant Lore: During the Revolutionary War, dried leaves of Ceanothus americanus were used as a substitute for tea; the leaves are, however, devoid of caffeine. Native Americans used preparations of root bark for medicinal purposes, a practice that continues today amongst herbalists. Alkaloids from the root have been demonstrated to exert a mild effect in lowering blood pressure. New Jersey Tea is a versatile dye plant, yielding green dye from flowers, red dye from roots, and cinnamon-colored dye from whole plants. Flowers are rich in saponins and will form a gentle lather when crushed and mixed with water.
Florida Hardiness Zones 8 – 10