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New Jersey Tea (Ceanothus americanus): A Short Showy Shrub

Jim Lakin MD, Dakota County Master Gardener

New Jersey Tea (Ceanothus americanus) is in no way related to Earl Grey or the American mafia. Read this article about how this hardy, long-lived native perennial shrub got its name. Continue reading to learn more about this native shrub’s attributes and how to use New Jersey Tea in your garden.

New Jersey Tea (Ceanothus americanus): A Short Showy Shrub

New Jersey Tea (Ceanothus americanus) is in no way related to Earl Grey or the American mafia.  Its curious name was coined during the American Revolution when its leaves were used as a substitute for the imported English version.  Never having tried the concoction, I cannot vouch for either its taste or its safety.  I can however, attest to the plant being a hardy, long-lived native perennial shrub.  

Ceanthus americanus in summer bloom

In the wild New Jersey Tea thrives on upland prairies and savannas in full sun to partial shade.  It is found throughout eastern and central North America, growing some three feet tall and five wide.  Ceanothus americanus is hardy from Zones 3 through 9 so it does well even in Northern Minnesota.  It makes an excellent low hedge where privacy is not an issue. New Jersey Tea works especially well on rocky hillsides and slopes.  It does require well-drained soil which can be either sandy or loamy.  The shrub has a deep tap root which makes it especially drought resistant and low maintenance when established.  It is a slow grower, however and will take two to three years to establish itself.  Once settled in, New Jersey tea boasts beautifully glossy green leaves topped by frothy white clusters of flowers that adorn the shrub in July and August.  Thus, it adds color to the garden at times when not much is otherwise happening.  These flowers go on to produce black seed capsules which explode in early fall.  The capsule remnants remain on the bush through the winter, adding interest.   

New Jersey Tea is deciduous and blooms off new wood.  Therefore, it can be pruned back in the fall or early spring, if desired.  I prefer, however, to leave it in its natural 


Ceanothus americanus foliage

As you might expect from such a ubiquitous native perennial, it is quite pollinator friendly.  Hummingbirds especially appreciate the smaller insects that are drawn to the summer blooms.  It is a host plant for both Spring Azure and Summer Azure butterflies (Celastrina ladon).  It is said to be deer resistant although other sources state deer use the twigs as a major food source throughout the year.  Frankly, most anything is potential chow for Bambi. Since it is slow growing it usually is available in nurseries only in smaller sizes.  Be patient, however and you will be richly rewarded by this lovely plant.

Photo Credit: US Fish & Wildlife Service (1), Go Botany (2)

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