Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
Southern Wetland Flora
Field Office Guide to Plant Species
Clethra alnifolia L.
- Family: White-alder (Clethraceae)
- Flowering: May-July
- Field Marks: This species differs from all other shrubs by its erect racemes, 5 white petals, 10
long-exserted stamens, and small, spherical, hairy capsules.
- Habitat: Bayheads, along streams, damp thickets, low pinelands, wet prairies, bogs, around
ponds, swamps, pocosins.
- Habit: Shrub up to 13 feet tall.
- Stems: Woody, densely hairy at first, becoming smooth and purple-brown at maturity.
- Leaves: Alternate, simple, elliptic to lanceolate, usually pointed at the tip, tapering to the base,
toothed, smooth on the upper surface, smooth or hairy on the lower surface, up to 3 1/2 inches
long, up to 2 inches wide.
- Flowers: Many in densely crowded, erect racemes; branches of the racemes densely hairy;
flowers subtended by narrow bracts up to nearly 1/2 inch long.
- Sepals: 5, green, united below, densely hairy.
- Petals: 5, white, free from each other, up to 1/3 inch long.
- Stamens: 10.
- Pistils: Ovary superior.
- Fruits: Capsules nearly spherical, up to 1/6 inch in diameter, crowded into racemes,
surrounded loosely by the persistent sepals.
- Notes: The flowers are pungently fragrant, accounting for the common name of pepper-bush.
The racemes, bearing empty capsules, persist on this plant during the fall and winter months.
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