New Jersey tea (Ceanothus americanus) is a deciduous shrub that is native to North America. It is best planted in gardens located within USDA Zones 4 to 8, and it bears clusters of white flowers at the start of summer. This plant can be used in herbal medicine and as a dye.
The scientific name used for this shrub is Ceanothus americanus. A synonym is Ceanothus ovatus. Another example of the genus is the blue blossom ceanothus. Both are part of the Rhamnaceae (buckthorn) family.
Names that are associated with this plant include New Jersey tea, Indian tea, mountain sweet, snowbrush, red-root, wild snowball, redroot, soapbloom, mountain sweet, redroot, mountain snowball, and mountain-sweet.
The name New Jersey tea came about during the American Revolution. Tea was a bit scarce at the time (after all, imported tea tariffs helped lead to the start of that war!) so a tea-like drink was made from the leaves of this shrub. This shrub does feature red roots as other names suggest.
Preferred USDA Hardiness Zones
The recommended zones for this shrub are 4 to 8. It originally comes from eastern North America.
Size and Shape
At maturity, the New Jersey tea will be 3 to 6 feet tall and wide, forming into a rounded shape.
Full sun to partial shade is needed for this plant.
Foliage, Flowers, and Fruit
The dark green leaves are ovate, glossy and 2 to 4 inches long with serrated edges. Some have small hairs on the underside.
At the end of spring, this shrub will start to produce clusters of fragrant white flowers at the ends of the branches. The blossoms and roots can be used to make dyes.
The fruit is a dry type called a capsule that contains three seeds. It can crack open forcefully on its own (much like Wisteria) and release the seeds away from the plant. As The Woody Seed Plant Manual by the U.S. Forest Service suggests, you could gently tie cloth bags around immature capsules so they can catch the seeds upon maturity.
Butterflies attracted to this species include the spring azure (Celastrina ladon), summer azure (Celastrina neglecta), pallid swallowtail (Papilio eurymedon), dreamy duskywing (Erynnis icelus), Lorquin's orange-tip admiral (Limenitis lorquini) and mottled duskywing (Erynnis martialis) as well as many other butterflies and moths.
Since New Jersey tea forms large sturdy roots, it is able to handle periods of drought well and is a good choice for soils that are sandy or rocky. Transplantation can be difficult, though, because of those roots. Move it while it is young for the best results.
Make sure that your planting location drains well to help discourage root rot from starting as this species does not tolerate wet feet.
New plants may be created through planting the seed, dividing plants or taking cuttings from an existing shrub. Seeds should be stratified (placed in cold storage) and scarified (outer seed coat broken open a little) before planting to improve germination rates.
Maintenance and Pruning
Since this shrub tends to form suckers, plan on pruning them away early if you do not want the plant to spread. This is a useful feature, though, if you are trying to quickly populate a wildlife or native garden. It should not need much pruning otherwise. If you do want to do a little trimming, do so at the end of winter before the blossoming starts.
Pests and Diseases
Leaf spot, powdery mildew, Verticillium wilt, mushroom root rots, and dieback are diseases that you may see on this shrub.