Botanical Name:  Clethra alnifolia

Common Name:  Clethra, Summersweet, Pepperbush, Coastal Sweet Pepperbush

Description:  Summersweet is a deciduous flowering shrub found in Florida’s swamps, wet flatwoods, savannas, and bogs. The plant is an excellent plant for wildlife. Its showy, sweet-scented flowers bloom mid to late summer, attracting hummingbirds, bees, butterflies, and other pollinators. Birds and small mammals consume the fruits.

Summersweet’s bottlebrush-like flowers are bright white to pinkish and five-petaled. They are held by a calyx composed of five hairy, cream-colored sepals. Stamens number 10. Anthers are creamy white to rusty brown. Flowers are born in long, densely covered terminal or axillary racemes. They open bottom to top. Leaves are obovate to oblong and petiolate with conspicuous venation and alternate arrangement. Leaf margins are serrated from midpoint to apex. In the fall, the leaves turn a golden hue. Seeds are born in small, round pubescent capsules. It slowly grows to 3-8′ tall x 2-5′ wide. Can form thickets if the rhizome shoots are left to grow.

Its native habitat is moist to wet acidic soils in part sun or part shade areas, in wet flatwoods, savannas, swamps, stream banks, bogs, other wet areas. Great for your rain garden, low areas, by downspouts, etc. Adapts to normal gardening conditions, but looks best in soils that are not extremely dry for long periods of time. Has medium drought tolerance after becoming established. Is deer resistant.

Tolerant of occasional/brief salt water inundation such as can occur in storm surges. Can tolerate significant and ongoing amounts of salty wind and salt spray without injury.

This plant in 3-gallon containers is 2-3′ tall.

Plant Lore: The genus name Clethra is from the Greek klethra, meaning “alder.” It is so-named because the leaves of some Clethra species resemble alder leaves. The species epithet alnifolia also means “alder-like leaves.” Summersweet is the only member of the Clethra genus native to Florida. It is sometimes referred to as Coastal sweet pepperbush because the mature fruits look a bit like peppercorns.

Florida Hardiness Zones 8 – 9


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