A wide variety of butterflies and songbirds are attracted to summersweet clethra for its nectar and seeds. Native to the eastern United States, it has lustrous green leaves in the spring, spiky white or pink fragrant flowers during the summer, golden yellow leaves in the fall, and interesting, delicate dried seed capsules in winter to provide exceptional four-season interest.
This plant has some cultivated varieties. Go to list of cultivars.
All Common Names:
Tree or Plant Type:
- Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)
- North America
- Mixed border,
- Medium shrub (5-8 feet),
- Small shrub (3-5 feet)
- Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily),
- Partial sun/shade (4-6 hrs light daily),
- Full shade (4 hrs or less of light daily)
- Zone 4,
- Zone 5 (Chicago),
- Zone 6,
- Zone 7,
- Zone 8,
- Zone 9
- Acid soil,
- Moist, well-drained soil,
- Wet soil
- Wet sites,
- Occasional flooding,
- Alkaline soil,
- Road salt
- Summer blossoms,
- Fall color,
- Fragrant flowers
Season of Interest:
- Early winter,
- Mid winter,
- Mid summer,
- Late summer,
- Early fall,
- Mid fall,
- Late fall
Flower Color & Fragrance:
Shape or Form:
photo: John Hagstrom
Tree & Plant Care
Oval to rounded form reaching 6 to 8 feet high and 4 to 6 feet wide
Cultivars vary in size and color.
Best in moist to wet soils, tolerant of soil pH, part shade to full sun.
Slow to leaf out in spring.
Spreads by suckering roots forming wide colonies.
Flowers on new wood, prune to control size in spring.
Tolerant of aerial salt spray.
Disease, pests and problems
No serious problems
Native geographic location and habitat
Native to the eastern coast of the United States.
Attracts birds & butterflies
Songbirds, including robin, goldfinch, and warblers are attracted to the seed capsules.
Nectar source for swallowtail butterflies and hummingbirds.
Bark color and texture
Bark is brown; multi-stemmed.
Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture
Simple, alternate leaves; 2 to 4 inches long, sharply serrated, medium to dark green above, paler beneath, turns a golden-yellow in fall.
Flower arrangement, shape, and size
Fragrant, five-petaled flowers in upright spikes on end of branches. Color varies by cultivar from white to pink.
Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions
Interesting, delicate, dried seed capsules persist through winter.
Cultivars and their differences
Ruby Spice (Clethra alnifolia ‘Ruby Spice’): 4 to 6 feet high and wide; oval to rounded form; rosy pink flowers.
Sixteen Candles (Clethra alnifolia 'Sixteen Candles'): 2 to 3 feet high and wide; rounded form; white flowers.
Vanilla Spice™ (Clethra alnifolia 'Caleb'): 4 to 6 feet high and 3 to 5 feet wide; upright to rounded form; white flowers are larger than those of the species.