Early spirea

Flowers of early spirea.

Early spirea or Thunberg spirea is one of the first spireas to flower in early spring. The 3- to 5-feet-high shrub starts out with lovely white umbel-shaped flowers, followed by fine-textured, light green foliage that eventually changes to a bronzy-orange fall color. Great plant for accent or used in a shrub border.

Botanical name:

Spiraea thunbergii

All Common Names:

Early spirea, Thunberg spirea, Thunberg's meadowsweet

Family (English):

Rose

Family (Botanic):

Rosaceae

Tree or Plant Type:

  • Shrub

Native Locale:

  • Non-native

Landscape Uses:

  • Foundation,
  • Hedge,
  • Massing,
  • Mixed border,
  • Patio/sidewalk,
  • Specimen

Size Range:

  • Small shrub (3-5 feet)

Light Exposure:

  • Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily)

Hardiness Zones:

  • Zone 4,
  • Zone 5 (Chicago),
  • Zone 6,
  • Zone 7,
  • Zone 8

Soil Preference:

  • Moist, well-drained soil

Season of Interest:

  • Early spring,
  • Mid spring,
  • Late summer,
  • Early fall

Flower Color & Fragrance:

  • White

Shape or Form:

  • Multi-stemmed,
  • Open,
  • Vase-shaped

Growth Rate:

  • Moderate

More Information:

Size & form

A small vase-shaped, loosely branched shrub reaching 3 to 5 feet high and slightly wider at maturity

Tree & Plant Care

Best in full sun to light shade, prefers well-drained soil
Does not like wet sites.
Requires pruning to keep in shape
Plants can send out runners forming small colonies, prune to maintain size

Disease, pests, and problems

Leaf spots, mildew, suckers and fire blight

Disease, pest, and problem resistance

Deer

Native geographic location and habitat

Japan and China

Attracts birds, pollinators, or wildlife

Butterflies and bees

Bark color and texture 

Finely textured, slender stems arranged in a zigzag pattern.
Stems are light brown with a downy to glabrous texture

Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture

Alternate, thin, linear leaves up to 1 1/2 inches long and 1/4 inch wide
Pale green, with finely serrated margins. Yellow-orange fall color holds leaves long into fall.

Flower arrangement, shape, and size

White umbel-shaped flower clusters appear before the leaves in early spring.

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions

Brown follicle persistent through winter, not showy.

Cultivars and their differences 

Compact Early Spirea (Spiraea thunbergii 'Compacta'): a compact, mound reaching 3 to 5 feet high and 3 feet wide, white spring flowers

Fujino Pink Early Spirea (Spiraea thunbergii 'Fujino Pink'): similar to species but flowers are light pink

Mt. Fuji early spirea (Spiraea thunbergii 'Mt Fuji'): a variegated form reaching 4 feet high. Narrow leaves have a white stripe and tend to twist and curl. Can revert back to green.

Location of Spiraea thunbergii (Early spirea) at the Arboretum