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Clethra

Clethraceae
Deciduous, Evergreen, Shrubs, Trees

These attractive plants are grown for the small, five-lobed, sweet-scented white or pink flowers that cluster at branch tips in mid- to late summer. Fairly soil tolerant but do best in moist, organic, slightly acidic, well-drained soil. Plants prefer partial shade but can adapt successfully to less light as well as to full sun, though they need some shade where summers are very hot. On deciduous shrubs, remove some old wood from base annually before spring growth begins.

Clethra alnifolia (photo courtesy of Proven Winners)
Clethra alnifolia (photo courtesy of Proven Winners)

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Clethra alnifolia

Eastern U.S. native grows to 4–10 ft. tall and wide; spreads slowly by suckers. Thin, strong branches form a vertical pattern. Dark green, tooth-edged, 2–4-in-long leaves appear late in spring, turn golden yellow to brownish in fall. During bloom season, each branch tip carries several 4–6-in.-long spires of tiny, gleaming white flowers with a spicy perfume.

Clethra arborea

Native to Madeira. Rather stiff upright growth to 20 ft. tall and about half as wide. Plant is densely clothed with 4-in. leaves in glossy, bronzy green. White flowers in upright, branched clusters resemble lily-of the-valley (Convallaria majalis) in looks and even in fragrance. Leaf tips burn with frost, but plant comes back from old wood or from roots when damaged.

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