Virginia Sweetspire is a medium sized wetland shrub found along freshwater streams, bogs and swamps. Growing to a maximum height of 8’ it provides good ground cover for mammals, seeds for birds and nectar for pollinators. At the peak of its blooming season the plant is covered with 4” spires of white flowers and will undoubtedly be abuzz with every nectar loving insect, and their predators, found in the area. Its fall foliage is characterized by a long lasting transition from red to purple, with leaves remaining on the shrub well into winter.
Bloom Time: April through June
Light Requirement: Part Shade
Height: 3’ – 6’
Soil Moisture: High – needs to remain moist, not drought tolerant.
Soil pH: Acid (<6.8)
Soil Description: Moist, rich soils.
In the Garden: Virginia Sweetspire, combined with Sweet Pepperbush make an excellent attractor for butterflies, providing nectar at the beginning and end of the season. It is very attractive when in bloom and during the autumn. Note, Virginia Sweetspire reproduces with runners, forming colonies, and can be invasive in the garden setting.
Vinca or periwinkle is a common ornamental frequently planted as ground cover. It is prized as a genuinely no-maintenance evergreen plant that is both attractive and functional. In some parts of the country it is planted as a fire resistant ground cover and works reasonably well for erosion control. There are two species commonly available: Vinca minor has smaller leaves (about 1” in length) than its sister Vinca major which has leaves about 2” long. Both species usually have purple flowers and shiny foliage. Vinca grows well in full shade to partial sun and is very drought tolerant.
According to the Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health (www.invasive.org) Vinca is native to Europe and was introduced during the 1700’s. It is naturalized in some parts of the country. It can be found growing wild throughout the eastern, southern and western states.
Growing thick and able to root from just about any part of the plant that is in contact with the ground, if not actively controlled periwinkle is a plant to avoid. On the bright side it can be reasonably contained if planted in an area where it is restrained by buildings, sidewalks, roads or active mowing on all sides. One should never plant Vinca at the edge of a forest without some form of restraining barrier. The Maryland Department of Natural Resources lists Vinca spp. as an invasive species.
Partridgeberry (Mitchella repens)
Photo: Robert H. Mohlenbrock @ USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database / USDA SCS. 1991.
Southern wetland flora: Field office guide to plant species. South National Technical Center, Fort Worth.