In the Spotlight
Written by Tolly Beck
Tolly Beck is the horticulturist at Lasdon Park and Arboretum in Westchester County. She was formerly a horticulture educator for New York Botanical Gardens in the Bronx and Cornell Cooperative Extension of Rockland, NY.
Cinnamon Clethra (Clethra acuminata) is a native shrub or small tree that is well suited for a woodland garden. The mature size is 8- 12’ with a similar spread. It prefers a full sun to part shade location in a well-drained acidic soil. Hardy to zones 5-8, it is right at home in our area.
Cinnamon Clethra is native to the Appalachain mountains in southeastern United States. The common name refers to the beautiful mottled golden to cinnamon inner bark that is revealed as the outer bark naturally peels away. Small, white, lightly fragrant, bell-shaped flowers are produced in 6-8” long drooping spires in June- July. The flowers open from the base of the spire to the tip and are a favored by hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees.
Another common name for Cinnamon Clethra is Mountain Pepperbush. This name refers to the seeds that are produced after flowers have faded. The seeds have a spicy taste and are eaten by birds. Early settlers would often use the seeds from Mountain Pepperbush as a substitute for black pepper.
The elongated leaves of Cinnamon Clethra are rich- green during summer. In autumn, the leaves turn a colorful orange- yellow. After the leaves have fallen, the beautiful cinnamon inner bark and tiered branching continue the show for winter.
You may still find one or two Cinnamon Clethra for sale at the Shop at Lasdon. They are definitely worth the search. Cinnamon Clethra is an endangered native plant in Pennsylvania and certainly deserves a home in our local landscapes.