549 Itea virginicaCommon Names: sweetspire, Virginia willow, tassel-white, Virginia sweetspire Family: Saxifragaceae (saxifrage Family)
Sweetspire is an open, airy shrub up to 8 ft (2.4 m) tall with slender, arching branches. The leaves are alternate, tardily deciduous, long-eliptic, 3-4 in (7.6-10 cm) long by 1-1.5 in (2.5-4 cm) wide and toothed along their margins. They darken to red and purple in autumn, and may persist throughout most of winter, especially in the south. The white flowers are individually small, but borne from the tips of branches in elongate clusters (called racemes) that are very showy. The clusters of slightly fragrant flowers are up to 6 in (15 cm) long and may last for several weeks in the spring and early summer. The fruits are dry capsules in the same 6 in (15 cm) clusters, and usually remain on the shrub throughout the autumn and winter.
Sweetspire, Itea virginica, grows in swamps and along the edges of streams and lakes. It can tolerate flooding and shade. Sweetspire occurs throughout the southeastern US from Pennsylvania west to Missouri, and south to Texas and Florida.
CultureLight: Sweetspire will thrive in partial shade, but it produces its best flowers if bathed in full sunlight for at least a couple hours each day. Moisture: Although usually found naturally in wet areas, sweetspire, like many wetland species, does well in cultivation in well-drained soils, especially if mulched. Hardiness: USDA Zones 6 - 10. Propagation: Propagate with seeds (no pretreatment required) or cuttings. Sweetspire spreads with underground runners and the "pups" can be dug up and transplanted. Water frequently until well established.
We like sweetspire in wet areas of the landscape, along a stream or bordering a pond if you have one. Sweetspire is a good choice to overhang a bird bath or bird feeder because its open, spreading shape provides some shade and cover without totally blocking the birds' flight path.
With its slender arching branches and showy clusters of white flowers, sweetspire is one of our most attractive native shrubs. It can be grown in partial shade and in places that are too wet for most shrubs, but it also can be used in normal garden soils. Once established, sweetspire will do nicely in dry soils, but you must water it frequently for its first year. You can usually find sweetspire at nurseries that specialize in native plants.
Steve Christman 05/12/99; updated 05/1/03