Clethra alnifolia

2010 – Summersweet

Summersweet is a name that truly conveys the virtues and beauty of this native shrub. This deciduous plant grows to an oval shape with a with a height of 3-8 feet and a spread of 4-6 feet. It features fluffy, bottle-brush like spikes of fragrant white, rose or pink flowers which bloom for 4-6 weeks from mid to late summer and attract a variety of nectar gathering insects. The flower spikes give way to dark brown seed capsules which persist into winter, providing continued interest. It has glossy, dark green leaves which turn a brilliant yellow in the fall.

Summersweet makes an excellent, trouble-free shrub which masses well in planting displays in lawns or shrub borders although it will require regular watering until the plant becomes established. It can be easily grown in moist, acidic soils in full sun to part shade and is recommended most for perennial borders or foundation plantings and works especially well in wet areas such as low spots, stream banks or water edges.

Euonymus americanus

2009 – Strawberry Bush

The strawberry bush is a fairly uncommon native shrub most noted for its bumpy, raspberry-red seed pods that hang on the ends of the stems and open to reveal smooth, orange seeds.  Other striking features are its green bark and acute branching angles that provides interest throughout the year.  Strawberry bush grows 6 to 8 feet in ten years and its habit is loose and open becoming fuller with pruning and exposure to the sun.  They make wonderful woodland plants as they thrive naturally along shaded streams, in river bottoms or in moist open woods across the eastern U.S.

It has been reported that the bark and fruits are very toxic and should not be eaten.  Despite its potential danger, Native Americans once used the roots to make a tea for stomach and urinary problems.  Wild turkeys, wood thrushes, eastern bluebirds, yellow-rumped warblers, and northern mockingbirds consume and disseminate the seeds.

Aesculus parviflora

2008 – Bottlebrush Buckeye

The bottlebrush buckeye is a wide-spreading, suckering, multi-stemmed shrub making it an excellent plant for shrub borders. With its long, bottlebrush-like panicles of white flowers, there are few summer flowering plants which can rival this species.

If transplanting, do so in early spring into a moist, well-drained soil that has been adequately prepared with organic matter. It is best planted in full sun or partial shade and rarely needs pruning. It prefers acid soil but is adaptable.

Itea virginica

2007 – Virginia Sweetspire

The Virginia sweetspire is a deciduous to semi-evergreen, 3 to 5 foot tall shrub commonly found in swamps, wet woodlands and along woodland streams of eastern North America.

It has slightly fragrant white flowers in May when few other plants are flowering. Its medium to dark green summer leaves change to yellow, orange, reddish purple, scarlet, and crimson in autumn.


Sweetspire grows best in full sun to partial shade and prefers moist, fertile soils where it spreads to form a mass. It also tolerates drought and is adaptable to different pH levels.

Fothergilla gardenii

2006 – Dwarf Fothergilla

Dwarf fothergilla, a member of the witch hazel family (Hamamelidaceae), is a hardy plant native to the coastal plains. In the wild, it is often found around bogs or ponds and has interesting features through three seasons of the year. In spring, it has fragrant, white, bottlebrush-like flowers that bloom in April and May. After the flowers appear, the dark green to blue-green summer leaves emerge. Autumn might be the peak season for the dwarf fothergilla as the leaves change to red, orange, maroon or yellow, often all on the same plant!

It is a multi-stemmed, suckering, thicket-forming shrub that grows only 3 to 5 feet tall, a trait that makes it perfect for grouping. Fothergillas are slow growing and require little pruning. They prefer moist, well-drained, slightly acidic soils and have the best flowers and fall color when planted in sunny locations.