Sweet Pepper Bush

While exploring the Pinelands in August, you may notice a surprisingly sweet smell. As you scan your surrounding environment, your eyes land on the beautiful, white blooming flowers of the sweet pepper bush (Clethra alnifolia), a shrub commonly found in the sandy soil of the pines.



Sweet Pepper Bush captured by Monica Cahill

You infer that the upright, small, white, 5-petal flowers blooming must be the source of the delightful fragrance that caught your nose. As you wander toward the flowers and the fragrance intensifies, you see multiple branches with alternating dark green oval-shaped leaves. The shrubs vary in height, although they are typically four to eight feet tall. You take a break during your hike just to admire the fragrance that the sweet pepper bush adds to the background of pine trees.

The sweet pepper bush is known for its hardiness, as it will grow in full sun, partial sun, or shade. These shrubs serve as a home for low-nesting birds and as a nectar source for pollinators. After the flowers blossom, brown seeds that look similar to peppercorn can be seen until wintertime. Wildlife of all sorts enjoy these seeds as food.  The sweet pepper bush is also known as summer sweet, soap bush, and white alder. The name soap bush comes from the stalk of the blossom that creates a soap-like material when mixed with water.  The sweet pepper bush can be appreciated for the beauty and fragrance that it provides to all who cross its path.

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