Spiraea, Cape May, Garland Spiraea, Bridal May, Mayflower, Japanese meadowsweet - Spiraea

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Spiraea cantonensis Flora Plena. Picture courtesy www.steyns-nursery.co.zaSpiraea cantonensis Flora Plena. Picture courtesy www.steyns-nursery.co.zaCondensed Version:

Spiraea is a genus of deciduous shrubs belonging to the rose family (Rosaceae). Most Spiraea species have fine arching stems and simple alternate leaves that are often toothed or lobed. There are both spring and summer flowering species, and most are very ornamental when in full bloom, bearing masses of tiny white to deep pink flowers. The flowers can occur right along the stems or may be clustered in spikes at the tips. These attractive plants remain popular with gardeners in temperate regions because they are versatile and easy to grow; and over the years a number of new garden cultivars with beautiful bronze, gold or yellow coloured foliage have been introduced. There is a spiraea suitable for most garden purposes; the taller-growing types can be used for informal hedges and screens, or in mixed shrub borders; and many of the low-growing types are suitable as groundcovers, for low hedges, rockeries and borders, and for planting under windowsills. Because their roots are non-invasive, all varieties are useful screening plants for the foundations of buildings, and they are also good to plant on slopes and banks to stabilise the soil. Spiraea species will attract butterflies and moths to your garden; being used as food plants by the larvae of some Lepidoptera species.

Spiraea japonica 'Little Princess' Spiraea japonica 'Little Princess' Spiraea species perform well throughout South Africa's growing regions, except for the humid areas. They are fully hardy to cold and frost and will tolerate most garden soils, ranging from acidic to slightly alkaline. Although these plants like growing near water and cope well with seasonal flooding, they cannot tolerate saturated soils for extended periods of time. In the garden they prefer lots of water during the growing season; but it is essential that the soil drains well or the plants won’t thrive. In dry regions they will need year-round watering, and in the winter rainfall regions, regular summer watering. Feed with a good general purpose organic fertiliser before new growth begins in spring. In cool climates they perform well if planted in full sun; but in areas with hot summers they will need some shade during the hottest part of the day, or the leaves may scorch.

Spiraea japonica 'Little Princess'Spiraea japonica 'Little Princess'Full Version:

Description, History & Interesting Facts:

Spiraea is a genus of deciduous shrubs belonging to the rose family (Rosaceae). The approximately 80 species are native to the temperate Northern Hemisphere, with the greatest diversity in eastern Asia. Spiraea has a long history of medicinal use by Native Americans as the entire plant contains Methyl Salicylate and other salicylate; compounds with similar medicinal properties to aspirin. Unlike aspirin, it is effective in treating stomach disorders in minute amounts. The salicylates in this plant are a highly effective analgesic (painkiller), anti-inflammatory, and fever reducer, without the side effects attributed to aspirin. Compounds in this plant also contain bacteriostatic properties, and the tea of was used by the Blackfeet Indians as an enema and vagina douche to treat infections of the bowels and vaginal area.

Spiraea japonica 'Gold Flame. Picture courtesy Leonora Enking. Visit her flickr photostreamSpiraea japonica 'Gold Flame. Picture courtesy Leonora Enking. Visit her flickr photostreamMost Spiraea species have fine arching stems and simple alternate leaves that are often toothed or lobed. There are both spring and summer flowering species, and most are very ornamental when in full bloom, bearing masses of tiny white to deep pink flowers. The flowers can occur right along the stems or may be clustered in spikes at the tips. These attractive plants remain popular with gardeners in temperate regions because they are versatile and easy to grow, and over the years a number of new garden cultivars with beautiful bronze, gold or yellow coloured foliage have been introduced.
 
The majority of those with coloured leaves are derived from Spiraea japonica which is naturally variable in form, so there are many varieties of it in the horticulture trade. Spiraea japonica is native to Japan, China, and Korea, with Southwest China being the centre of biodiversity of the species. It was introduced into cultivation from China by Robert Fortune in about 1850; and was introduced in North America as an ornamental landscape plant and first cultivated in the north-eastern states around 1870. It is now naturalized throughout much of the Northeast, Southeast, and Midwest areas of the United States, and parts of Canada.  A common habitat for S. japonica in general seems to be in riparian areas. The word "riparian" is derived from the Latin ripa, meaning river bank; and plant habitats along river margins and banks are called riparian vegetation and characterized by plants which have the ability to thrive in seasonally waterlogged conditions. Riparian zones are significant in ecology, environmental management, and civil engineering because of their role in soil conservation.

Spiraea x van houttei 'Pink Ice' Picture courtesy www.steyns-nursery.co.zaSpiraea x van houttei 'Pink Ice' Picture courtesy www.steyns-nursery.co.zaIn the Garden:

There is a spiraea suitable for most garden purposes; the taller-growing types can be used for informal hedges and screens, or in mixed shrub borders, and many of the low-growing types are suitable as groundcovers, for low hedges, rockeries and borders, and for planting under windowsills. Because their roots are non-invasive, all varieties are useful screening plants for the foundations of buildings, and they are also good to plant on slopes and banks to stabilise the soil. Spiraea species will attract butterflies and moths to your garden; being used as food plants by the larvae of some Lepidoptera species; including Brown-tail, Emperor Moth, Grey Dagger, Hypercompe indecisa and Setaceous Hebrew Character.

Cultivars:

(Spiraea japonica) Japanese Spiraea. This species forms a small erect, freely branching shrub with a lax habit, growing fairly quickly to +-1.2 to almost 2m in height and about the same in width. Terminal panicles rosy-pink flowers are produced at the ends of the current season’s growth. They appear in early summer and continue sporadically until early autumn.

Spiraea japonica ‘Anthony Waterer’. This cultivar can bloom in early, mid or late summer, producing flat heads of crimson-pink flowers. It is a rounded, compact shrub which can ultimately reach 1 to 1.5m in height and spread, but because it is slow growing, taking up to 6 to 10 years to reach its ultimate height, it is generally sold as +-90cm tall with an equal spread. Its beautiful green foliage is bronze-red when young, and often irregularly variegated with cream and pink. It makes a fine low-growing informal hedge, and The Royal Horticultural Society has given this plant its prestigious award of Garden Merit.

(Spiraea japonica ‘Little Princess’) Dwarf Spiraea. This dwarf spiraea grows +-50cm tall with an equal spread. Its narrow leaves emerge a lovely yellow-green, mature to a rich emerald-green; and turn a lovely coppery-bronze in autumn. It produces prolific clusters of blushing pink flowers in late spring to early summer and makes a lovely ground cover. It is a slow growing plant with a lifespan of up to 20 years, but can take 6 to 10 years to reach its ultimate height.

(Spiraea japonica 'Goldflame') Japanese Meadowsweet. This dwarf spiraea is grown for its beautiful foliage and dark pink flowers in mid to late summer. New leaf growth is bronze-red, turning bright yellow, then eventually mid-green. For the brightest coloured foliage, prune back hard before growth begins in spring. It has an ultimate height of +-60 to 75cm, with an equal spread; but can take 6-10 years to reach its ultimate height. Its compact growth habit makes it ideal for use as a low, informal hedge. The Royal Horticultural Society has given it its prestigious award of Garden Merit.

(Spiraea cantonensis 'Flora Plena') Mayflower. This fast growing shrub has been cultivated by gardeners around the world for generations and is one of the most beautiful ornamental shrubs. If it is not pruned and allowed to assume its natural growth habit it will grow 2 to 3m tall and can spread 1.8m across or more; forming a beautiful domed shape with gracefully arching stems. In mid-spring to summer the branches are completely covered with such a profusion of small double, pure-white flowers that the branches weep under the weight of the blooms. It grows +-1.5 to 2m tall with almost an equal spread, and is an excellent hedging plant.

(Spiraea x vanhouttei) Mayflower. This spiraea has been used in gardens for over a century and is loved for its bushy rounded shape and green leaves which turn orange-red to purple in autumn; and its pure white flowers in late Spring to early summer. It has an ultimate height of +-2.5m and can spread up to 3m; but can take 6 to 10 years to reach its ultimate height. The Royal Horticultural Society has given it its prestigious Award of Garden Merit (AGM).

(Spiraea x van houttei 'Pink Ice') Mayflower. A small growing spiraea with gorgeous green leaves, heavily speckled with white (and sometimes) pink, and new growth which is tinged pink; giving the plant an outstanding appearance if mixed with green foliage shrubs in the garden. It will start flowering during early summer, bearing clusters of small pure white or pink flowers. It is a long-lived, slow-growing shrub which can take 6 to 10 years to reach its ultimate height and spread of +-0.5cm to 1m.

(Spiraea x arguta) Garland Spiraea, Bridal May. This bright green, bushy shrub is a magnificent sight in mid to late spring when its arching branches are draped in single, snow-white flowers. The small leaves turn coppery bronze in fall. This long-lived rounded shrub has an ultimate height of +-1.5 to 2.5m with an equal spread, but it is slow growing and can take 16 to 20 years to reach its ultimate height.

Cultivation/Propagation:
 
Spiraea species perform well throughout South Africa's growing regions, except for the humid areas. They are fully hardy to cold and frost and will tolerate most garden soils, ranging from acidic to slightly alkaline; and are adapted to silt, chalk, clay, silty clay,  clay loam, loam, loamy sand, sandy clay loam and sandy loam soils. Although these plants like growing near water and cope well with seasonal flooding, they cannot tolerate saturated soils for extended periods of time. In the garden they prefer lots of water during the growing season; but it is essential that the soil drains well or the plants won’t thrive. In dry regions they will need year-round watering, and in the winter rainfall regions, regular summer watering. Feed with a good general purpose organic fertiliser before new growth begins in spring. In cool climates they perform well if planted in full sun; but in areas with hot summers they will need some shade during the hottest part of the day, or the leaves may scorch.

Because some species flower on the old wood and should be pruned immediately after flowering; and others flower on the current seasons growth and may be trimmed in winter; it can be confusing for the gardener to know when to prune, so the safest time to prune is immediately after flowering. Many gardeners opt to cut out the flowers of the coloured varieties to encourage new leaf growth. If some of the branches of the coloured varieties revert back to green, these shoots must be pruned out immediately, or the more vigorous green shoots will overpower the coloured branches.

Propagation is from softwood or semi-ripe cuttings.

Pests & Diseases:

Spiraea suffer from no serious insect or disease problems, but are susceptible to many of the diseases and insects that attack other rose family members, including leaf spot, fire blight, powdery mildew, root rot, aphids, leaf roller and scale.

Warning:

Spiraea is a salicylate-bearing plant; and in its pure form, methyl salicylate is toxic, especially when taken internally at high doses. The lowest published lethal dose is 101mg per kg of body weight in adult humans. It has proven fatal to small children in doses as small as 4ml. Methyl Salicylate is used as a topical cream for the skin in deep heating liniments for the relief of muscular and rheumatic pains and stiffness, including backache, sciatica, lumbago, and fibrositis. A 17 year-old cross-country runner at Notre Dame Academy on Staten Island, died April 3, 2007, after her body absorbed high levels of methyl salicylate through excessive use of topical muscle-pain relief products.  Methyl salicylate is also sometimes added in small amounts as a flavouring agent in chewing gums and other products at no more than 0.04%.

Additional Info

  • Common Name: Spiraea, Cape May, Garland Spiraea, Bridal May, Mayflower, Japanese meadowsweet
  • Latin Name: Spiraea