Description & Overview
Steeplebush is an upright, suckering, woody shrub native to Wisconsin and found throughout the state (except counties along eastern-central Lake Michigan), in wet meadows, wet pastures, boggy areas, marshes, and along lakes. This shrub boasts reddish-brown exfoliating bark and yellow fall color, but the real show is the beautiful steeple-shaped clusters of pink flowers.
You may also know this plant as Hardhack.
Steeplebush is easy to grow provided it receives full sun (6+ hours) and is planted in moist and slightly acidic soil. It can tolerate some shade; however, full sun is best for maximum blooming. Removing faded flowers will encourage additional blooms! It should be noted that Steeplebush is a vigorous plant and will sucker to form colonies. For this reason, it’s best to plant in a location where it has room to grow otherwise it will require higher maintenance in trying to control its spread.
This plant is perfectly happy in low-lying areas, ditches, along stream banks, or in bioswales where it stays moist. Steeplebush makes a showy border around a pond, especially amongst cattails and rushes where its height and color contrast nicely. With its tendency to sucker, Steeplebush is a good option for moist areas needing erosion control or restoration.
Attracting many pollinators, add Steeplebush to a well-composted native or butterfly garden to bring height and bright color.
When planted in numbers, watch how Steeplebush draws in tons of pollinator visitors. It is a host plant for the Columbia Silkmoth (Hyalophora columbia), Scallop Shell moths (Rheumaptera undulata), and Spring Azure (Celastrina ladon) butterflies.
Steeplebush is a nectar and browse source for Atlantis Fritillary (Speyeria atlantis), Two-spotted Skipper (Euphyes bimacula), Fergusons Scallop Shell Moth (Rheumaptera prunivorata), Sharp-lined Yellow Moth (Sicya macularia), Apple Sphinx (Sphinx gordius), Poecila Sphinx (Sphinx poecila), and Spirea Leaftier (Evora hemidesma). Steeplebush is an excellent food source for the Federally Endangered and Wisconsin State Special Concern species, the Karner Blue butterfly (Lycaeides melissa samuelis). By planting Steeplebush, you would be helping the battle to restore populations!
Flowers also attract honey bees, Mesilla Masked bees (Hylaeus mesillae), Rose Miner bees (Andrena melanochroa), bumble bees, beetles, and flies.
Woody stems often die down to the ground during winter, making this a low-maintenance plant. Steeplebush flowers on new wood, prune in late winter/early spring if needed. In fact, pruning doesn’t seem to affect flowering for this species; the plant already has a desirable form.
During times of drought, supplemental watering will be needed to reduce stress on the plant. A good indicator that they are thirsty is when the plant starts to lose its leaves.
Black Walnut Tolerant: No
Deer Resistant: Yes
Rabbit Resistant: Yes
Deer occasionally browse the foliage but is not preferred because of the bitter, astringent taste.
A member of the rose family, Steeplebush can be susceptible to many of the same diseases such as leaf spot, fire blight, and powdery mildew. The best prevention is proper siting and care. Insect pests include aphids, leaf roller, caterpillars, and scale which are usually minor annoyances but not detrimental to the plant.
The genus name Spiraea is derived from the Greek word ‘speiraira’ which was a plant used for garlands. The specific epithet tomentosa means “densely woolly with matted hairs.”
Historically, Steeplebush was used as an astringent, a diaphoretic, infant cholera, and as a treatment for dysentery and diarrhea.
The common name Hardhack references “the problem early farmers encountered cutting the plant in their meadows.”
Plant Steeplebush with perennials, shrubs, and trees that enjoy similar moist or wet soil conditions such as:
- Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis)
- Meadowsweet (Spiraea alba)
- White Turtlehead (Chelone glabra)
- Harlequin Blue Flag Iris (Iris versicolor)
- Spotted Joe-Pye Weed (Eutrochium maculatum)
- Glade Mallow (Napaea dioica)
- Black Willow (Salix nigra)
- Tamarack (Larix laricina)
- Sweet Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia subtomentosa)
- American Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis)
- Common Ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius)