Spiraea alba Du Roi

white meadowsweet

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New England Distribution

Adapted from BONAP data

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North America Distribution

Adapted from BONAP data

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Facts About

White meadowsweet sweetens meadow landscapes in mid-summer with its cone-shaped spires of tiny white flowers borne at the ends of leggy branches. It differs from its other native cousin, rosy meadowsweet (Spiraea tomentosa) by having hairless leaves. White meadowsweet does well in cottage gardens where it can grow in full sun yet have its feet wet or moist. Dense stands make an unusual hedge. This species is a host for the larvae of the Spring azure butterfly (Celastrina ladon).

Habitat

Alpine or subalpine zones, anthropogenic (man-made or disturbed habitats), marshes, meadows and fields, shores of rivers or lakes, swamps, wetland margins (edges of wetlands)

Characteristics

Habitat
  • terrestrial
  • wetlands
New England state
  • Connecticut
  • Maine
  • Massachusetts
  • New Hampshire
  • Rhode Island
  • Vermont
Growth form
the plant is a shrub (i.e., a woody plant with several stems growing from the base)
Leaf type
the leaf blade is simple (i.e., lobed or unlobed but not separated into leaflets)
Leaves per node
there is one leaf per node along the stem
Leaf blade edges
the edge of the leaf blade has teeth
Leaf duration
the leaves drop off in winter (or they wither but persist on the plant)
armature on plant
the plant does not have spines, prickles, or thorns
Leaf blade length
30–70 mm
Leaf blade width
10–18 mm
Leaf stalk
the leaves have leaf stalks
Fruit type (general)
the fruit is dry and splits open when ripe
Bark texture
  • the bark of an adult plant is thin and smooth
  • the bark of an adult plant peels off easily or hangs off
Twig winter color
  • brown
  • purple
  • red
  • yellow
Bud scale number
there are three or more scales on the winter bud, and they overlap like shingles, with one edge covered and the other edge exposed
Show All Characteristics
  • Buds or leaf scars
    Bud scale number
    there are three or more scales on the winter bud, and they overlap like shingles, with one edge covered and the other edge exposed
    Bud scar shape (Fraxinus)
    NA
    Collateral buds
    there are no collateral buds on the sides of the branches
    Leaf scar arrangement
    there is one leaf scar per node on the stem or twig
    Superposed buds
    there are no superposed buds on the branch
    Winter bud stalks
    the winter buds have no stalks
  • Flowers
    Carpels fused
    the carpel is solitary or (if 2 or more) the carpels are not fused to one another
    Enlarged sterile flowers
    there are no enlarged sterile flowers on the plant
    Flower petal color
    white
    Flower symmetry
    there are two or more ways to evenly divide the flower (the flower is radially symmetrical)
    Hairs on ovary (Amelanchier)
    NA
    Hypanthium present
    the flower has a hypanthium
    Inflorescence hairs
    there are no hairs on the inflorescence
    Inflorescence position
    the inflorescences grow on the twigs
    Inflorescence type
    the inflorescence is a panicle (branched with the individual flowers on stalks)
    Number of pistils
    5
    Ovary position
    the ovary is above the point of petal and/or sepal attachment
    Petal and sepal arrangement
    the flower includes two cycles of petal- or sepal-like structures
    Petal appearance
    the petals are thin and delicate, and pigmented (colored other than green or brown)
    Petal fusion
    the perianth parts are separate
    Sepal appearance
    the sepals resemble leaves in color and texture
    Sepal cilia (Ilex)
    NA
    Sepal tip glands
    there are no glands at the tips of the sepal lobes
    Sepals fused only to sepals
    the sepals are fused to each other (not other flower parts), at least near their bases
    Stamen number
    13 or more
    Stamen position relative to petals
    NA
    Stamens fused
    the stamens are not fused to one another
  • Fruits or seeds
    Berry color
    NA
    Fruit tissue origin
    there are no flower parts that form part of the fruit
    Fruit type (general)
    the fruit is dry and splits open when ripe
    Fruit type (specific)
    the fruit is a follicle (has one ovary that splits along one side to release the seeds)
    Nut with spines (Fagaceae)
    NA
    Wings on fruit
    there are no wings on the fruit
  • Glands or sap
    Sap color
    the sap is clear and watery
    Stalked glands on fruit (Rosa)
    NA
  • Growth form
    Growth form
    the plant is a shrub (i.e., a woody plant with several stems growing from the base)
  • Leaves
    Hairs on underside of leaf blade
    the underside of the leaf has no hairs
    Hairs on upper side of leaf blade
    the upper side of the leaf is not hairy, or has very few hairs
    Leaf blade base shape
    the base of the leaf blade is cuneate (wedge-shaped, tapers to the base with relatively straight, converging edges), or narrow
    Leaf blade base symmetry
    the leaf blade base is symmetrical
    Leaf blade bloom
    the underside of the leaf has no noticeable bloom
    Leaf blade edges
    the edge of the leaf blade has teeth
    Leaf blade edges (Acer)
    NA
    Leaf blade flatness
    the leaf is flat (planar) at the edges
    Leaf blade hairs
    NA
    Leaf blade length
    30–70 mm
    Leaf blade scales
    there are no scales on the leaf blades
    Leaf blade shape
    • the leaf blade is lanceolate (lance-shaped; widest below the middle and tapering at both ends)
    • the leaf blade is oblanceolate (lance-shaped, but with the widest point above the middle of the leaf blade)
    • the leaf blade is oblong (rectangular but with rounded ends)
    • the leaf blade is obovate (egg-shaped, but with the widest point above the middle of the leaf blade)
    Leaf blade texture
    • the leaf blade is coriaceous (has a firm, leathery texture)
    • the leaf blade is herbaceous (has a leafy texture)
    Leaf blade translucent dots
    there are no translucent dots on the leaf blade
    Leaf blade vein pattern
    the main veins of the leaf blade are pinnate (the secondary veins branch off at intervals from the main central vein) and non-arcuate (not arched towards the leaf tip)
    Leaf blade veins
    the leaf blade has one main vein running from the base toward the tip
    Leaf blade width
    10–18 mm
    Leaf duration
    the leaves drop off in winter (or they wither but persist on the plant)
    Leaf form
    the plant is broad-leaved (with broadly flattened leaf blades)
    Leaf lobe tips (Quercus)
    NA
    Leaf midrib glands
    the midrib of the leaf blade lacks glands on the upper surface
    Leaf stalk
    the leaves have leaf stalks
    Leaf stalk attachment to leaf
    the petiole attaches at the basal margin of the leaf blade
    Leaf stalk nectaries
    there are no nectaries on the leaf stalk
    Leaf stalk shape
    the leaf stalk is not flattened
    Leaf teeth
    the leaf blade margin is serrate (with forward-pointing) or dentate (with outward-pointing) with medium-sized to coarse teeth
    Leaf teeth hairs (Carya)
    NA
    Leaf type
    the leaf blade is simple (i.e., lobed or unlobed but not separated into leaflets)
    Leaves per node
    there is one leaf per node along the stem
    Specific leaf type
    the leaves are simple (i.e., lobed or unlobed but not separated into leaflets
    Stipules
    there are no stipules on the plant, or they fall off as the leaf expands
  • Place
    Habitat
    • terrestrial
    • wetlands
    New England state
    • Connecticut
    • Maine
    • Massachusetts
    • New Hampshire
    • Rhode Island
    • Vermont
    Specific habitat
    • alpine or subalpine zones
    • edges of wetlands
    • man-made or disturbed habitats
    • marshes
    • meadows or fields
    • shores of rivers or lakes
    • swamps
  • Scent
    Plant odor
    the plant does not have much of an odor, or it has an unpleasant or repellant odor
  • Stem, shoot, branch
    Aerial roots
    the plant has no aerial roots
    Bark texture
    • the bark of an adult plant is thin and smooth
    • the bark of an adult plant peels off easily or hangs off
    Branch brittleness (willows only)
    NA
    Branch cross-section
    the branch is circular in cross-section, or it has five or more sides, so that there are no sharp angles
    First-year cane (Rubus)
    NA
    Lenticels on twigs
    there are no lenticels on the twigs, or they are very hard to see
    Short shoots
    there are no peg- or knob-like shoots present
    Twig bloom
    there is no bloom on the twig
    Twig hairs
    the twigs have few or no hairs on them
    Twig papillae (Vaccinium species only)
    NA
    Twig scales
    there are no scales on the twig surface
    Twig winter color
    • brown
    • purple
    • red
    • yellow
    Wings on branch
    the branch does not have wings on it
    armature on plant
    the plant does not have spines, prickles, or thorns

Wetland Status

Usually occurs in wetlands, but occasionally in non-wetlands. (Wetland indicator code: FACW)

New England Distribution and Conservation Status

Distribution

Connecticut
present
Maine
present
Massachusetts
present
New Hampshire
present
Rhode Island
present
Vermont
present

Conservation Status

Exact status definitions can vary from state to state. For details, please check with your state.

Maine
unranked (S-rank: SNR)
Massachusetts
unranked (S-rank: SNR)

var. alba

Massachusetts
unranked (S-rank: SNR)

var. latifolia

Maine
unranked (S-rank: SNR)
Massachusetts
unranked (S-rank: SNR)

Native to North America?

Yes

Sometimes Confused With

Spiraea tomentosa:
lower surface of leaf blades and branchlets woolly with white to red-brown hairs, and sepals reflexed in fruit (vs. S. alba, with the lower surface of leaf blades and branchlets without hairs or with very sparse hairs, and sepals erect in fruit).

Synonyms

  • Spiraea alba var. septentrionalis (Fern.) Seymour
  • Spiraea latifolia (Ait.) Borkh.
  • Spiraea latifolia (Ait.) Borkh. var. septentrionalis Fern.
  • Spiraea septentrionalis (Fern.) A. & D. Löve

Family

Rosaceae

Genus

Spiraea

Notes on Subspecies and Varieties in New England

Spiraea alba Du Roi var. alba is known from MA, VT.S. alba var. latifolia (Ait.) Dippel is known from CT, MA, ME, NH, RI, VT.

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Information from Dichotomous Key of Flora Novae Angliae

1.  Spiraea alba Du Roi N

white meadowsweet. 1b. Spiraea alba Du Roi var. septentrionalis (Fern.) Seymour; S. latifolia (Ait.) Borkh.; S. latifolia (Ait.) Borkh. var. septentrionalis Fern.; S. septentrionalis (Fern.) A. & D. Löve • CT, MA, ME, NH, RI, VT. Fields, roadsides, swamps, marshes, wetland margins, shorelines, clearings, boreal and alpine ravines.

1a.  Rachis of panicle and hypanthium tomentulose; leaf blades oblanceolate, 3–4 (or more) times as long as wide; branchlets brown to yellow-brown; sepals obtuse at the apex 
 … 1a. S. alba var. alba

1b.  Rachis of panicle and hypanthium ± glabrous; leaf blades broad-oblanceolate to oblong or obovate, 2–3 times as long as wide; branchlets purple-brown to red-brown; sepals acute at the apex … 1b. S. alba var. latifolia (Ait.) Dippel

Variety alba is known from MA, VT. Variety latifolia is known from CT, MA, ME, NH, RI, VT.

Spiraea septentrionalis is a frequently recognized taxon that, in New England, occurs in the higher Appalachian mountains. It is said to differ from S. alba var. latifolia in its larger flowers and diminutive panicles. Measurements on herbarium specimens showed that no differences exist in floral parts (e.g., sepals, petals, anthers). The small panicle with short, lower branches is not unique to S. septentrionalis. This character state can be seen on depauperate plants of S. alba at low elevation. On peaks such as Mount Washington ( NH) and Katahdin ( ME), one can observe a morphological cline with elevation (with progressively smaller panicles produced by higher elevation plants). Löve and Löve (1966) supported the recognition of S. septentrionalis by its different chromosome number. However, given the lack of morphological distinction, it makes sense to subsume S. septentrionalis in S. alba var. latifolia (i.e., treat this variety as one that includes multiple chromosome races).