A Northwest Native Shrub:
Mountain Spirea; aka,
Rosy Spirea or Subalpine Spirea
"The stem of a departed Flower
Has still a silent rank.
The Bearer from an Emerald Court
Of a Despatch of Pink."
In its natural habitat 2,000 to 11,000 feet up, Spiraea densiflora blooms in June & July, but down here at sea level, it blooms in May & early June, then reblooms in summer.
The blooms are flat-topped balls of fuzzy-looking teency florets in two- or three-inch clusters, a bit like lacecaps, in a very pleasing shade of pink-magenta.
Spent flower-heads remain on the plant even after leaf-fall & well into winter, as crisp brown balls of seed husks.
This is one of our Northwest native species, encountered in subalpine regions of British Columbia, Washington's Olympic & Cascade mountains, eastern Oregon, northern Idaho, western Montana, & California's northwest Sierran mountains.
Even here in the Northwest where it is from, it is a rare offering by nurseries, except by native plant specialists, & I assume it's even harder to obtain elsewhere. But if chance arises, it is well worth obtaining, an ideal little shrub for the woodland garden.
I like it much better than any of the commonly cultivated garden spireas. Its bright green leaves add essential texture to an array of shrubs.
Ours is snuggled amidst mid-sized azaleas, breaking up what might otherwise have been a monotonous grouping.
Its autumn colors are nothing special, though the browned seedheads can remain suprisingly decorative late in the year, & of interest to finches. August seeds are shown in the fourth photo below.
Often, by June & later, it will have these brown seedheads & fresh pink flowers simultaneously, since its bloom time is so extended. I used to try to trim out the seedheads but the shrub was too floriferous for such a time-consuming chore, so I've gotten more & more to regard the seeds heads as themselves nice brown flowers.
Further south or inland, especially in any climate where it does not experience a cool enough winter, it might not flower well if at all. But our mild Zone 8 winters do provide the seasonal cues it requires, so that it flowers dramatically over a long period. It should do just as splendidlly in the Northeast or in English & European gardens.
Our Rosy Spirea is a tad over three feet tall, which is a very mature size. It can easily spread wider but will not likely grow much if any taller; indeed, some specimens would not exceed two feet.
A light post-flower sheering encourages a more dramatic rebloom. A fuller winter sheering while not necessary will keep it compact & insures maximum flowerfulness the following season. It may need a harder pruning every third year if it seems too airy & insufficiently leafy or has had a falling off of floweriness.
It likes full bright sun, moist acidic soil. In the wild it would form spreading thickets along streambanks & exposed rocky slopes. Adaptable in the garden, it can colonize & spread if ignored, but never aggressively. When young plants appear nearby, these transplant easily.
A tea can be made from the leaves, twigs, bark, & flowers of Rosy Spirea, as also from the taller bottlebrush-flowered Douglas's Spirea (S. douglasii) which replaces S. densiflora at lower elevations. Native Americans regarded the tea as a tonic & a treatment for loose bowels. The twigs were often gathered upon which to cook or smoke salmon. The native spireas & rose-family shrubs generally were also used as tobacco substitutes or to cut Kinnikinnik in native smoking blends.
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