Ceanothus americanus

New Jersey Tea

New Jersey Tea in bloom
Photo courtesy Wisconsin State Herbarium
and Kenneth J. Sytsma

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The natural history of the northwoods


Name:

  • Ceanothus, from the Greek keanoqus (keanothus), a name given by Theophrastus to a spiny shrub not related to this plant.
  • americanus, from the Latin "of America"
  • Common Name from its use as a tea substitute during the American Revolution and one of the colonies where it was found and so used.
  • Other common names include Red Root
  • , Wild Snowball, Mountain Sweet

Taxonomy:

  • Kingdom Plantae, the Plants
    • Division Magnoliophyta, the Angiosperms (flowering plants)
      • Class Magnoliopsida, the Dicotyledons
      • Subclass Rosidae, the Roses
        • Order Rhamnales, the Buckthorns
          • Family Rhamnaceae, the Buckthorns
            • Genus Ceanothus, the Ceanothus
  • Taxonomic Serial Number: 28454
  • Also known as Ceanothus intermedius, Ceanothus ovatus

Description:

  • A small to medium shrub from 1½'-3½' tall.
  • Branches numerous, slender, and ascending.
  • Roots: Shallow, fibrous root hairs near the surface and thick, burllike, deep, woody roots. Root crown diameter can be quite large after repeated fires.
  • Flowers white, in small clusters on long axillary peduncles.
  • Fruit a three-lobed, dry, dehiscent capsule. black, 3-lobed, 4-5 mm long, 4-5 mm wide

Identification:

Distribution:

  • Quebec to Florida; west to Texas; and north to Minnesota

Habitat:

  • Dry open plains and prairielike areas, sandy or rocky soils in clearings at the edge of woods, riverbanks or lakeshores, woodlands, and hillsides.
  • Early to mid-successional species, it can rapidly colonize disturbed sites where its nitrogen-fixing ability gives it a competitive edge over other species. Declines as successional communities mature.
  • Found in greatest abundance at high light intensities.

Fire:

  • Typically top-killed by fire
  • Well adapted to fire. After being top-killed, it sprouts from rootstock.
  • Where frequent fires occur it becomes a conspicuous dominant. In northern Minnesota it withstands grass fires better than any other shrub.

Associates:

History:

  • Root is astringent. An alkaloid from the root was used for increasing blood coagulability, especially the prevention of hemorrhage from surgery.
  • Leaves were substitute for imported tea during the American Revolution.

Uses:

Reproduction:

  • Reproduces from seed and by sprouting.

Propagation:

  • Propagated from stem or root cuttings
  • The seeds have impermeable seed coats as well as dormant embryos. The best germination results have been obtained by first soaking seeds in hot water (170-180 degrees F initially, allowing the water to gradually cool overnight) followed by stratification in moist sand at 41 degrees F for 60 days.

Cultivation:

  • Hardy to USDA Zone 3 (average minimum annual temperature -40ºF)
  • Cultural Requirements
    • Full sun to part shade
    • Best in sandy loams or rocky soils with good drainage
    • Dry to medium moisture
    • Spacing
    • Fertilization
  • Size 3'-5'"W x 3'-4'H
  • Many species of Ceanothus, including New Jersey Tea, are well suited for use in rehabilitation because of rapid growth rates and an ability to improve soil fertility through nitrogen fixation.
  • Shrub borders or native plant gardens. Also effective as a shrubby ground cover for hard-to-grow areas such as dry rocky slopes and banks
  • Cultivars and species available by mail order from specialty suppliers or at local nurseries
  • Thick, woody, red roots go deep and help plant withstand droughty conditions, but make established shrubs difficult to transplant.
  • No serious insect or disease problems. Susceptible to leaf spot and powdery mildew.

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Last updated on 7 March, 2006