Sweetspire is a Southeastern native that grows in moist, wet areas, as well as upland sites. It is grown for the long drooping clusters of white fragrant flowers in spring, and the kaleidoscope of orange, red, and yellow leaves in fall.
Size and Form:
Virginia sweetspire is a 3 to 5 feet high and wide, rounded shrub that may form thickets, especially in moist areas.
Native geographic location and habitat:
Native to the Southeastern United States where it is found in swamps, wet woodlands, and along streambanks.
Bark color and texture:
The young stems are slender, greenish to reddish, with small tan lenticels. The mature stems take on a red-brown color and are scaly in appearance. The twig pith is chambered and white. The roots produce suckers.
Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture:
The simple, alternate leaves are 2 to 4 inches long, elliptical, with a finely toothed margin. The leaf tip is pointed and the leaf is glossy green in the summer. The fall color is a mix of yellow, orange, red, and purple.
Flower arrangement, shape, and size:
The flowers are drooping, white flowers in a 2 to 6 inch long terminal spike. The long-lived flowers are fragrant.
Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions:
The fruit is a small, dried capsule that persists into winter.
Virginia sweetspire is found growing in wet woodlands and along stream banks. It does best in moist, organic-rich, acidic soil. It can be grown in higher pH soils, but chlorosis may be a problem. It grows in full sun to part shade. Maintain good soil moisture for the best growth. Be sure to water it in dry periods. A layer of organic mulch will help to moderate soil temperature and conserve moisture. Prune it after it has flowered.
List of pests, diseases, and tolerances:
Leaf spot and mildew may be problems on this plant. Chlorosis symptoms appear in high pH soil. The plant is tolerant of flooded areas for extended periods of time. It is drought tolerant once it is established.
Henry’s Garnet Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica ‘Henry’s Garnet’):
A rounded, 2 to 3 feet high and 4 to 6 feet wide shrub. It has white flowers and reddish-purple fall color.
Little Henry™ Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica ‘Sprich’):
A compact, 3 to 4 feet high and 3 to 4 feet wide cultivar. It has 3 to 4 inch flower spikes and burgundy-red fall color.
Scarlet Beauty™ Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica ‘Morton’):
An upright-rounded, 3 to 4 feet high and wide shrub with abundant flowers and orange-red fall color. This is a Chicagoland Grows™ introduction.