Description & Overview
Meadowsweet is a Wisconsin Native shrub that grows to be 2-4′ tall, thrives in full sun and grows well in wet areas like bogs or along edges of streams. Meadowsweet doesn’t have the typical neat shrub-like structure as it grows in colonies and could be commonly mistaken for a wildflower in a wet prairie-like setting, though it is classified as a woody shrub with a woody root structure. The flowers are panicles with individual small white flowers distributed among them and can be seen during midsummer.
Meadowsweet prefers full sun, in wet to moist conditions, with soil containing high content of organic material. Standing water can be tolerated if temporary. It prefers glaciated areas that are sunny and poorly drained. Habitats include wet prairies, low areas along streams, edges of marshes, bogs, and ditches, or with regular watering in a border or cottage garden.
Meadowsweet grows to be 2-4′ tall and is usually sparingly branched. Young branches are green, but as they age, they become smooth, brown, and woody. Alternate leaves occur along the young branches of the shrub and are densely distributed among them. The leaves are narrowly ovate, sharply serrated, and have short petioles. The upper side of the leaf is medium green with the bottom displaying a pale green. The branches terminate in panicles with flowers about 2-6” long and are oblong to pyramidal in shape.
The individual flowers are small, white, and distributed along the panicle. There is a narrow ring-like structure that surrounds the 5 pistils in the center of the flower- this floral structure is pink, orange, or yellow and is where the nectar of the plant comes from. Bloom time occurs from mid to late summer and can last about 1-2 months. Fruits then mature in September. Seeds disperse somewhat like milkweed pods.
It resembles Steeplebush (Spiraea tomentosa) which is commonly observed growing alongside it, but this type has pink flowers and the leaves are silvery-white on the underside. Meadowsweet will be easiest to identify when in bloom.
The flowers produce nectar and pollen which attract bumblebees, other bees, wasps, adult long-horned beetles, and the Virginia Ctenucha moth. The caterpillars of the Spring azure butterfly feed on the flowers and buds. There are many other types of moths that also feed on Meadowsweet- usually the leaves. The leaf beetle Tricholochmaea spiraeae is a specialist feeder, while the larvae of several gall gnats also rely on the shrubs for a source of food and habitation. The ruffed grouse and greater prairie chicken eat the flower buds, and the latter game bird eats the seeds during the fall and winter. White-tailed deer often browse the upper leaves and twigs, while the cottontail rabbit occasionally browses the lower leaves and twigs.
Remove spent flower clusters while in bloom to promote additional bloom.
There are no serious pest or disease problems with Meadowsweet. They are susceptible to many of the diseases and insects which attack other members of the rose family including leaf spots, fireblight, powdery mildew, rots, aphids, leaf roller, and scale.
Genus name comes from the Greek word ‘speira’ meaning “wreath spiraled or twisted” in reference to showy flower clusters seen on most shrubs in the genus. Specific epithet means “white”.