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Clethra: Sweet Pepper Bush

Clethra is one of my favorite native plants, but more importantly, it's a favorite plant of butterflies and other pollinators! Clethra alnifolia, better known as Summersweet or Sweet Pepper Bush, is wonderful native plant that blooms in late summer. Obviously the common name 'Summersweet' comes from the very sweet-smelling blooms that appear right in the heat of the summer. The other common name 'Sweet Pepper Bush' comes from the attractive seed capsules that closely resemble Peppercorns.

The fragrant blooms which are 6-inch long spikes last for more than a month and attract many pollinators.



There's a Clethra for every garden, since this shrub is available in both large-growing and dwarf varieties. But when I say 'available' I realize that Clethra is truly difficult to find in nurseries. Why, I do not know.



My favorite is 'Ruby Spice' since I'm a fan of pink flowers, but the white-blooming 'Hummingbird' is much sought after, probably due to the beauty of the shrubs planted en mass around Hummingbird Lake at the famous Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, Georgia.

If your garden requires a dwarf shrub, seek out 'Sixteen Candles'--a more compact plant that seems to have more bloom spikes than possible! The name was given to this plant by Michael Dirr because the upright bloom spikes really do resemble candles on a birthday cake. This plant is truly spectacular!


Whichever you find, you can count yourself lucky to have this plant in your garden. It requires only consistent moisture to keep it happy. (I'm sorry, I do know that consistent moisture is hard to provide in Georgia these days, but if you have a wet spot, a pond edge, a soaker hose, or even, as in our case, stopped up field lines because your wife didn't know any better than to plant a Weeping Willow in the wrong spot, this shrub is definitely worth the trouble!)



Of course, my favorite online source for native plants is Shady Gardens Nursery.