Steeplebush (Spiraea tomentosa)
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Steeplebush (Spiraea tomentosa) is a native deciduous shrub which produces spike-like clusters of deep pink flowers in summer. This plant forms a mound-shaped thicket of slender, unbranched stems, three tor four feet tall. The pink to rose-purple flowers have five petals; they are about 1/4 inch wide and form a three to four inch cluster . The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs). The plant generally blooms from July to September. Butterflies and other nectar-feeding insects find the flowers highly attractive. The flowers are followed by small, dry, brown fruit. The leaves are generally oval, about 2.5 inches long and one inch wide. The upper leaf surface is dark green; the lower surface is covered with dense woolly hairs. The bark is papery.
Steeplebush is a member of the Rose Family (Rosaceae). The genus name -- Spiraea -- comes from an ancient Greek word,meaning a spiraled or twisted wreath. It refers to the twisted seed pod of some of these species. The species name -- tomentosa -- means densely woolly. The plant is also known as Hardhack and Hardhack Spiraea. The common name -- Steeplebush -- is a reference to the steeple-like clusters of rose-pink flowers which appear in summer.
A similar species, Meadowsweet, does not have woolly twigs or hair on the undersides of the leaves. Another similar species, Japanese Spiraea (S. japonica) is a nonnative invasive plant; it has flat-topped clusters of pink flowers.
Steeplebush has been used by native Americans for medicinal purposes. The Algonquin reportedly used an infusion of leaves and stems as a medicinal tea. The Mohegans are said to have used an infusion of leaves to treat dysentery. The Ojibwa used and infusion of leaves and flowers for sickness in pregnancy and for easing childbirth.
Steeplebush grows in sunny or slightly shady areas in swamps and open moist ground at the Paul Smiths VIC and other locations in the Adirondack Mountains and upstate New York. It prefers wet, moderately acid soils. The plant can be found in the eastern half of the US and Canada, including New York State. It appears from Ontario and Quebec south to Georgia and Mississippi.
At the Paul Smiths VIC, Steeplebush may be seen along the margins of Heron Marsh, from the Heron Marsh Trail, Woods and Waters Trail, Bobcat Trail, and Logger's Loop Trail. It may also be seen on the shorelines of Black Pond (from the Black Pond Trail) and Long Pond (from the Long Pond Trail). Steeplebush usually blooms in this part of the Adirondack Park in July, depending on the weather.
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