Clethra is Greek for alder, as the leaves were thought to resemble alder leaves; alnifolia is Latin for ‘leaves resembling alder.’
Swampy lowland areas, on stream banks, and along the seashore.
Good addition to mixed hedges, rain gardens, and naturalized sun or shade areas, providing both late season blooms and autumn color. Any pruning should be done in late winter. Can tolerate dry areas once established.
A rounded, deciduous, densely branched shrub that enjoys moist soil and full sun to part shade, but tolerates shade. It can grow up to 8 ft tall and 6 feet wide in optimal conditions, where sandy soils are medium to wet. Its spicy, sweet flower scent led to the common name ‘sailors’ delight,’ as its scent often reached sailors before land was sighted.
Leaves and Stems
Leaves are 3 to 4 inches long, dark green, simple, serrated (toothed), oblong, and glossy in summer, changing to yellow shades in autumn. Leaves grow on stalks along stems that are multi-branching and erect, with exfoliating, thin, smooth brown to brown-gray bark.
Blooming in July and August, the white to light pink spires or racemes are 2 to 6 inches long, clustering at branch ends, with multiple, tiny, fragrant flowers that are showy en masse.
Dark brown seed capsules 1/8 inch in diameter contain tiny seeds, and often persist through winter.
Attractive to birds, bees, and butterflies. Deer persistently browse the small shrubs we planted at the Native Garden.
Spreads by root suckers. Can also be propagated via cuttings, or clump or root division. Sow seed on moist sand.
Its flowers produce lather when crushed in water, so this plant is sometimes used for soap.
Library Garden (see garden map)
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
Plant Profile by Kate O’Dell