Vascular Plants of North Carolina
Account for Coastal Sweet-pepperbush - Clethra alnifolia   L.
Members of Clethra with account distribution info or public map:
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Section 6 » Order Ericales » Family Clethraceae
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DistributionThroughout the Coastal Plain, and barely into the extreme lower Piedmont, west only to Wake, Montgomery, and Anson counties.

Surprisingly, this Coastal Plain species has a range that extends much farther north than just VA; it reaches all the way to ME. It occurs south to northern FL and the Gulf Coast, to eastern TX. There are a few far inland records in AL and apparently TN.
AbundanceCommon to often abundant in the Coastal Plain, especially in areas with extensive pocosins and in the Sandhills. Very local and rare in the adjacent Piedmont.
HabitatThis is one of the most characteristic species of moist and sandy habitats, especially in pocosin habitats – streamhead pocosins, interiors and edges of pocosins and bay forests, blackwater streams and swamps, and sandhills pools and wet thickets. It is also found in pine flatwoods and, in the Sandhills, on "dry" slopes underlain with clay. It does occur on a few bluffs in the edge of the Piedmont in Wake County, but in that province it is found mainly in damp floodplains.
PhenologyBlooms in June and July; fruits in September and October.
IdentificationThis is a very familiar low-growing and thicket-forming deciduous shrub, growing mostly to about 5-6 feet tall. It has alternate leaves (to about 2-3 inches long) with strongly serrate margins and an acuminate tip. The leaves have strong parallel veining, with numerous pairs coming off the mid-vein and remaining parallel to near the leaf margin. The species can usually be identified by this strong vein pattern, but the plants are heavily festooned with an abundance of 3-6-inch long racemes of very fragrant white flowers. The fragrance of the flowers can be smelled from a dozen feet or more, and a good variety of insects can usually be encountered on the flowers. Clethra typically grows in sizable stands, and when in full bloom it makes a very spectacular floral display.
Taxonomic CommentsOlder references often split the species into two varieties – var. alnifolia and var. tomentosa, but most recent ones do not recognize varieties.

Other Common Name(s)Coastal Pepperbush, Coastal White-alder, Summersweet
State RankS5
Global RankG5
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B.A. SorrieStreamhead ecotone. July 2016. CumberlandPhoto_natural
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