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  • Hidden Treasure of the Arboretum: Japanese Sweet Shrub

Deliciously fragrant Clethra are a summer-blooming highlight at the Washington Park Arboretum. From late July to mid-August, beautiful spires of tiny white flowers cover the shrubs and are magnets for bees and other pollinators.

The most abundant species in the park is Clethra barbinervis, the Japanese sweet shrub (also called simply Japanese clethra). There are 18 specimens altogether. A grouping of 10 huge specimens dating to 1945 can be found near Rhododendron Glen. The plant in the photo (about eight feet tall) dates to 1979 and grows with two others just on the west side of the Wilcox Bridge.

In the latest issue of the Arboretum Bulletin, editor Niall Dunne writes about the natural history of the plant and the cultural history of the specimens in the Arboretum.