I'd like to identify this tree, growing on the margin of a drainage ditch next to a fairly dry gravel parking lot in coastal Maine, USA (hardiness zone 5b). It's currently about 8' tall, with opposite branching; exfoliating bark; 6" ovate leaves with fine-toothed serrated margins that occur in clusters. It is currently (August) flowering, with multiple small white buds along a 10" central stems emerging from the centers of most leaf clusters. Sniffing the (perhaps mostly gone by) flowers over a couple of days indicated no odor.

Some pictures. First, the whole tree:

Whole tree

Second, a leaf cluster viewed from the top and the side:

Leaf cluster, top

Leaf cluster, side

The flowers:


... one flower in closeup: Flower close-up

And the trunk:


and a closeup of the bark (with newspaper to persuade my cell camera to focus): Bark

(Feel free to correct my terminology, and thanks.)

1 Answer 1


I think its Clethra, and as it's in flower now, Clethra alnifolia, although you haven't mentioned fragrance in regard to the flowers, and they are fragrant. Common name sweet pepperbush or summersweet, it's a deciduous shrub hardy down to USDA zone 3. It likes moist soil, which explains why it's chosen to grow on the edge of the drainage ditch, and is native to your area. More info https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/all/clethra-alnifolia/

  • 1
    Interesting, and close, but I don't think it's a match. I sniffed the (albeit mostly closed) flowers, and there's no scent. Plus, the organization seems wrong; the plant I'm describing clearly has a single central bole, but Clethra seems to be a bush, with lots of stems. Is there more info I can collect that would confirm/refute your suggestion? Commented Aug 22, 2017 at 19:22
  • Wait till the flowers open, try to smell them when the sun is on them...but I sort of agree about its growth habit, this one looks more like a tree...
    – Bamboo
    Commented Aug 22, 2017 at 20:31
  • Bamboo I think your ID is correct. This is usually a shrub a medium to large which can as you know be a small tree. Easy to prune it into a small tree but if this is the case, someone has been working on this guy from the beginning.
    – stormy
    Commented Aug 22, 2017 at 20:46
  • @stormy Or its grown without any interference - it is an upright grower, and often, professional growers prune back as a plant grows to make it bushy... Scent of flowers and seedpods later will confirm or deny
    – Bamboo
    Commented Aug 22, 2017 at 21:29
  • It looks to be growing amongst trees, so quite shady, which would encourage more upright growth. Scent as an ident won't work for everyone - I love the smell of Platanus leaves which I find quite strong and point it out to people in my garden and a quite a few have unable to smell anything. Commented Aug 23, 2017 at 8:57

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