Spiraea / Meadowsweet
Attractive in form, flower, and foliage
The Spiraea genus contains deciduous flowering shrubs, commonly called spirea or meadowsweet, grown for their attractive forms, profusion of flowers, and some for their spectacular fall color. These charming ornamental shrubs are wiry and freely branching with stems that are either erect or loose and fountaining. Some spireas bloom is spring, some in summer. Their tiny flowers appear in dense clusters and are white or shades of pink. Nectar and pollen rich, the flowers sustain honeybees, bumblebees, butterflies, and many other pollinators. Spireas also offer foliar interest, with many species having colorful leaves in hues of chartreuse, orange, or bright yellow, which is often tipped with hot pink or red.
Spiraea genus comprises around 80 species of fast-growing woody shrubs, ranging from 1½ to 8 feet tall, with similar widths. Spireas can be rhizomatous, forming multi-stemmed spreading clumps, and/or self-seeding. Under ideal conditions, these species can form dense stands over time. Spireas are great specimens and border plants. Smaller varieties are best grouped or massed and work well as ground cover. S. japonica (Japanese spirea, Japanese meadowsweet) is the most cultivated species. S. alba (white meadowsweet), S. billardii (Billard’s meadowsweet), and S. tomentosa (steeplebush) are North American natives. A few other common species include S. albiflora (Japanese white spirea), S. prunifolia (bridal wreath spirea), S. thunbergii (early spirea, baby’s breath spirea), and S. vanhouttei (Vanhoutte spirea).
Spireas are tough, adaptable, cold hardy, and easy to grow in sunny locations. They tolerate a wide range of soils and some shade, but best flowering is in full sun. Wild spirea typically grow in riparian areas, bogs, or other wetland habitats; however, growing condition requirements vary depending on species. With proper location and care, spirea can live up to 20 years.