Tolerant of shade and damp soils, Virginia sweetspire may be the perfect answer to that problem spot in your yard. This medium-sized, colony- forming native shrub sends up many slender, arching stems from its suckering root system. Its spreading growth habit makes it a natural for mass plantings on slopes and , stream banks, and around ponds. Blooming in late spring to early summer, Virginia sweetspire bears loads of small, fragrant white flowers in drooping cylindrical clusters. Autumn is another high point for this plant— when its foliage turns shades of red, purple, orange, and yellow.
Common name: Virginia Sweetspire
Botanical name: Itea virginica
Plant type: Ddeciduous or semi-evergreen shrub
Zones: 5 to 9
Height: 3 to 5 feet
• Sun: Full sun, partial shade, or full shade.
• Soil: Humus-rich, moisture-retentive soil is ideal, but Virginia sweetspire also grows well in average soils.
• Moisture: Evenly moist to wet; tolerates short dry spells but needs watering in extended drought.
• Mulch: 1 to 2 inches of organic mulch, like like wood chips, shredded leaves, or pine needles.
• Pruning: Rarely needed; cut back or dig out suckers if colony size must be reduced.
• Fertilizer: Topdress annually with compost.
• Stem cuttings.
• Dividing root suckers.
Pests and diseases
• No major problems.
• ‘Henry’s Garnet’ is a widely available cultivar noted for excellent red fall foliage.
• ‘Merlot’ is a compact (3 to 3 ½ feet tall) form (3 to 3½ feet tall) with rich burgundy fall color.
• Little Henry (‘Sprich’) is a compact (3 feet tall) form (3 feet tall) with shorter flower clusters.
• If butterfly bush (Buddleia spp.) is invasive in your region, Virginia sweetspire may be a good substitute. It’s not as drought- tolerant as butterfly bush, but it’is a fine choice in sites with average soil moisture; , and butterflies like it just as much.
• Combine Virginia sweetspire with other shade- tolerant, moisture- loving plants, including such as summersweet (Clethra alnifolia), cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis), and turtleheads (Chelone spp.).
All in the family
• Virginia sweetspire is a member of the Iitea family (Iteaceae), which comprises just three genera.
• Virginia sweetspire is the only Itea species in the United States, but there are six Itea species native to Asia.
• Some taxonomists lump the Iitea family into the gooseberry family (Grossulariaceae).
Where to buy
Shady Gardens Nursery, LaGrange, GA, www.shop.shadygardensnursery.com
Woodlanders, Aiken, SC, (803) 648-7522, www.woodlanders.net