Photo by Jessica Walliser
Meadowsweet’s white, conical blooms attract both beneficial insects and pollinators to the garden, providing them with food and habitat.
I was so excited to find one of my favorite native shrubs this spring at a local nonprofit’s plant sale. Needless to say, I bought one and it is already at home in one of my perennial borders.
Meadowsweet (Spirea alba) is a remarkable deciduous shrub that deserves to be utilized far more often than it is. It’s hardy in USDA zones 3 through 8 and grows between 2 and 4 feet tall and equally as wide. Not only does meadowsweet produce fragrant, conical clusters of fuzzy white flowers on the tops of its upright branches, but it thrives with little care and provides nectar, pollen and habitat for a plethora of beneficial insects and pollinators. A native of the northeastern U.S. across to the Dakotas and north into Canada, it grows in full to partial sun and average to wet soils.
It’s a shame that this lovely plant is endangered in several states when it has the potential to be a valuable and attractive landscape specimen. It’s a very hardy plant and thrives in a wide range of growing conditions. In trials at the Michigan State University, meadowsweet was one of the most attractive mid-season bloomers to both beneficials and pollinators.
Meadowsweet provides habitat and food for minute pirate bugs, parasitic wasps, assassin bugs, ladybugs, ground beetles, damsel bugs and a lot of other good bugs that are natural enemies. Its habit is fairly upright and narrow, even when mature, a quality I find very attractive. I’m looking forward to seeing it mature in my perennial border over the coming years. Steeple bush (Spirea tomentosa) is a pink-flowering species with very similar traits. Someday, if I can manage to find one for sale somewhere, I’d love to have one of these growing in my garden, as well.
For those of you living in western North America, a similar species, Spirea douglasii, (commonly known as rose spirea, western spirea, Douglas’ spirea or hardhack steeple bush) is, perhaps, an even better selection. It also bears conical clusters of flowers in a jovial pink. They are common hedgerow plants in the West.