Also known as bush pepper, common white alder, nana, and pink spire, this deciduous shrub or small tree is native to woodlands and mountains of Central China and is a member of the Clethraceae plant family that is distantly related to azaleas. It grows 6-10′ tall and has smooth, marbled brown to cinnamon bark that exfoliates. The elliptical to oblong leaves are 2-5″ long, serrated, and are borne in terminal clusters. They are dark green turning yellow to coppery and burgundy in the fall. The fragrant white flowers are carried in terminal clusters 6-10″ long in mid to late summer and attract bees and butterflies. Each flower is 1/4″ wide and has exserted stamens. Chinese clethra is valued for its fragrant flowers and exfoliating bark and is a good choice for a hedge or screen as well as for use in fragrance, winter, woodland, shade, butterfly, and pollinator gardens. The genus name Clethra, is from the Greek word klethra, meaning alder, and refers to the resemblance of the leaves to those of alders.  The specific epithet, fargesii, honores Abbe Farges (1844-1912) a French missionary in China in the late 19th century.

Type: Flowering deciduous shrub or small tree

Outstanding Feature: Flowers; exfoliating bark

Form: Oval to rounded

Growth Rate: Rapid to moderate

Bloom: Terminal clusters of white fragrant flowers from mid to late summer

Size: 6-10′ H x 3-6′ W

Light: Partial shade to full sun

Soil: Average, consistently moist, well-drained, slightly acidic

Hardiness: Zones 6-9

Care: Low maintenance

Pests and Diseases: None of significance but spider mites can be a problem

Propagation: Stem cuttings, seed

Photo Credit: Agnieszka Kwiecień, Wikimedia Commons

By Karen