Ceanothus americanus (New Jersey Tea)
|Also known as:||Redroot, Wild Snowball|
|Life cycle:||perennial woody|
|Habitat:||part shade, sun; sandy soil, fields, prairies, open woods|
|Bloom season:||June - August|
|Plant height:||1 to 3 feet|
|Wetland Indicator Status:||none|
|MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):|
|National distribution (click map to enlarge):|
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Dense, rounded to cylindrical clusters 1 to 3 inches long at branch tips and arising on long naked stalks from upper leaf axils of new growth. Clusters are elongated, compound, made up of smaller clusters, with those at the tip stalkless or having shorter stalks than those below, each with about 10 to 14 flowers, each flower on a ¼ to ¾-inch white stalk. Flowers are white, ¼ to 3/8 inch across, with 5 spreading spoon-shaped petals alternating with 5 broad, triangular, white sepals that fold in towards the center of the flower. The petal edges fold up giving them a pipe or hatchet like profile. Arising from the fold of each petal is a single stamen, sometimes dark tipped. A single white, 3-parted style is in the center.
Leaves and stem:
Leaves are alternate, medium to broadly egg-shaped, 1 to 3 inches long and typically more than half as wide as long, tapered to a blunt tip and rounded to nearly heart-shaped at the base, strongly three veined, finely hairy on the surfaces, especially the underside, finely serrated around the edges, on a short stalk. Lower stems are woody, the new growth with fine hairs.
New Jersey tea is a low bushy shrub rarely over two feet tall, at least in Minnesota. The lower stems are persistently woody with the upper herbaceaus branches dying back annually. It is only superficially similar in appearance to Narrow-leaved New Jersey Tea (Ceanothus herbaceus) which, as its name implies, has narrower leaves, more elliptic in shape with a taper at both ends of the leaf blade. It is also hairless throughout making the leaf surfaces shinier, and its clusters form above the uppermost leaf at the very tip of the seasonal branches, making them smaller and rounder. C. americanus also flowers about a month later than its narrow-leaved relative. Both inhabit similar dry or rocky, open habitats but they are rarely found growing in close proximity and C. herbaceus is less common and more restricted in range. History has it that during the American Revolution, colonists used it as a substitute for green tea, perhaps grumpily as it contains no caffeine. Though not universally recognized, there are 3 varieties of C. americanus, distinguished by geographic region as well as leaf hairiness or size; var. pitcheri, with hairs on both leaf surfaces, is the one found in Minnesota.
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Where to buy native seed and plants ↓
- New Jersey Tea plants
- New Jersey Tea with Butterfly-weed and Hoary Puccoon
- roadside New Jersey Tea
- a colony of New Jersey Tea
- compound cluster structure
- clusters in the upper axils
Photos by K. Chayka taken at Long Lake Regional Park, Ramsey County, and in Cass County. Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken at locations throughout the Anoka Sandplain, and in Aitkin County.
Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?