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Virginia sweetspire

Fall color of cultivar 'Henry's Garnet'.

Sweetspire is a southeastern native that grows in moist, wet areas, as well as upland sites. Grown for the long, drooping clusters of white, fragrant flowers in spring and the kaleidoscope of orange, red, yellow fall color.  

This plant has some cultivated varieties. Go to list of cultivars.

Botanical name:

Itea virginica

All Common Names:

Sweetspire, Virginia sweetspire, Virginia-willow, Virginia willow

Family (English):

Sweetspire

Family (Botanic):

Iteaceae

Tree or Plant Type:

  • Shrub

Foliage:

  • Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)

Native Locale:

  • North America

Landscape Uses:

  • Foundation,
  • Massing,
  • Mixed border,
  • Specimen

Size Range:

  • Medium shrub (5-8 feet),
  • Small shrub (3-5 feet)

Light Exposure:

  • Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily),
  • Partial sun/shade (4-6 hrs light daily),
  • Full shade (4 hrs or less of light daily)

Hardiness Zones:

  • Zone 5 (Chicago),
  • Zone 6,
  • Zone 7,
  • Zone 8,
  • Zone 9

Soil Preference:

  • Moist, well-drained soil,
  • Wet soil

Tolerances:

  • Dry sites,
  • Wet sites,
  • Occasional flooding,
  • Clay soil

Season of Interest:

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

Flower Color & Fragrance:

  • Fragrant,
  • White

Shape or Form:

  • Multi-stemmed,
  • Round,
  • Thicket-forming,
  • Upright

Growth Rate:

  • Moderate

More Information:

Size and Form

3 to 5 feet high and wide; rounded form; may form thickets.

Tree & Plant Care

Found growing in wet woodlands and along stream banks.
Best in moist, organic-rich, acidic soil. Can  grow in higher pH soils but chlorsis may be a problem.
Grows in full sun to part shade.
Water in dry periods.
Maintain good soil moisture for best growth. Benefits with a layer of organic mulch to moderate soil temperature and conserve moisture.
Prune after flowering.

Disease, pests and problems

Leaf spot, mildew, and chlorsis symptoms in high pH soil.

Disease, pest, and problem resistance

Plant tolerant of flooded areas for extended periods of time.
Drought tolerant once established.

Native geographic location and habitat

Native to the southeastern United States.
Found in swamps, wet woodlands, and along streambanks.

Bark color and texture 

Young stems are slender, greenish to reddish with small, tan lenticels.
Mature stems take on a red-brown color and are scaly in appearance.
Twig pith is chambered and white.
Roots produce suckers.

Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture

Simple alternate leaves; 2 to 4 inches long, elliptic with a finely toothed margin.
Leaf tip is pointed, green and glossy in summer; fall color is a mix of yellow, orange, red and purple.

Flower arrangement, shape, and size

Terminal, drooping, white flowers in a 2 to 6 inch long spike; fragrant. Flowers are long-lived.

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions

Small, dried capsules that persist into winter.

Cultivars and their differences 

Henry's Garnet Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica 'Henry's Garnet'):  A rounded, 2 to 3 feet high and 4 to 6 feet wide shrub with white flowers and reddish-purple fall color.

Little Henry™ Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica 'Sprich'): Compact, 3 to 4 feet high and 3 to 4 feet wide; 3 to 4 inch flower spikes, and burgundy-red fall color.

Scarlet Beauty™ Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica 'Morton'): Upright-rounded, 3 to 4 feet high and wide; adundant flowers, orange-red fall color; Chicagoland Grows™ introduction.

Location of Itea virginica (Virginia sweetspire) at the Arboretum