This section is from the book "Nature's Garden", by Neltje Blanchan. Also available from Amazon: Nature's Garden; An Aid To Knowledge Of Our Wild Flowers And Their Insect Visitors.
Flowers - Very fragrant, white, about 1/3 in. across, borne in long, narrow, upright, clustered spikes, with awl-shaped bracts. Calyx of 5 sepals; 5 longer petals; 10 protruding stamens, the 1 style longest. Stem: A much-branched shrub3 to 10 ft. high. Leaves: Alternate, oblong or ovate, finely saw-edged above the middle at least, green on both sides, tapering at base into short petioles.
Sweet Pepperbush (Clethra alnifolia)
Preferred Habitat - Low, wet woodland and roadside thickets; swamps; beside slow streams; meadows.
Flowering Season - July - August.
Distribution - Chiefly near the coast, in States bordering the Atlantic Ocean.
Like many another neglected native plant, the beautiful sweet pepperbush improves under cultivation; and when the departed lilacs, syringa, snowball, and blossoming almond, found with almost monotonous frequency in every American garden, leave a blank in the shrubbery at midsummer, these fleecy white spikes should exhale their spicy breath about our homes. But wild flowers, like a prophet, may remain long without honor in their own country. This and a similar but more hairy species found in the Alleghany region, the Mountain Sweet Pepperbush (C. acuminata), with pointed leaves, pale beneath, and spreading or drooping flower-spikes, go abroad to be appreciated. Planted beside lakes and streams on noblemen's estates, how overpowering must their fragrance be in the heavy, moisture-laden air of England! Even in our drier atmosphere, it hangs about the thickets like incense.