Rick’s Native Plant of the Month | Itea virginica

November 11, 2021
Bridge Gardens

This month’s native plant of the month is Itea virginica, commonly called Virginia sweetspire. This near-native, found from the New Jersey pine barrens to Florida and west to the Mississippi, is a real standout this time of year. Its oval, four inch, lustrous dark green leaves turn fiery red or burgundy, making it one of the best shrubs for fall color. The color is long-lasting too, with some leaves persisting until early winter.


The autumn colors of Virginia sweetspire greet you along the brick path

Growing 3 to 5 feet and wider than tall, sweetspire has an attractive upright, arching, branching structure. It can spread and form large thickets if root suckers are not controlled.

One of the few shrubs blooming here in late June and early July, sweetspire has tiny white, fragrant flowers in numerous drooping, cylindrical clusters up to 6-inches long. As tough and adaptable as it is beautiful, sweetspire is easily transplanted and easily grown. It grows in sun and shade, and though best in moist, fertile soils, also flourishes in wet soils and is surprisingly drought tolerant.


A great choice for naturalizing, sweetspire is also good for foundation plantings, borders and rain gardens. ‘Henry’s Garnet’ is a compact variety with long flower clusters and dependable burgundy fall color. ‘Little Henry’ is an even more compact variety, growing only 2 to 3 feet tall.

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