Ceanothus americanus L.

New Jersey Tea

Ceanothus americanus plant

Family - Rhamnaceae

Stems - To +75cm tall, multiple from base, branching, woody, erect, dense pubescent with a mix of longer and shorter hairs above, puberulent to glabrous below.

Ceanothus americanus stemUpper portion of stem.

Leaves - Alternate, petiolate. Petiole to 6mm long, dense pubescent. Blade ovate to oblong-ovate, crenate-serrate, acute, rugose above, soft pubescent, (more so below), to +6cm long, +4cm broad.

Ceanothus americanus leaves

Inflorescence - Axillary panicles on long peduncles. Peduncles to 6cm long, dense pubescent, longer than subtending leaf. Panicle to 4cm long(tall), subcylindric. Pedicels white, glabrous, expanded at apex below calyx, to 6mm long.

Ceanothus americanus inflorescence

Flowers - Petals 5, white, spreading, clawed. Claw to 1mm long. Limb cupped or folded, tuberculate externally, .8mm long. Stamens 5, opposite the petals, erect. Filaments to 1mm long, whitish with a purple tinge, glabrous. Anthers purplish. Style .2mm long, 3-lobed. Ovary surrounded by a purple nectary ring, 3-locular. Hypanthium 1mm long, white, persistent in fruit. Calyx lobes inflexed, acute, ciliate margined, 1mm long, deciduous. Fruit a 3-lobed capsule, deep purple to black, 4-5mm broad. Seeds 1 per carpel.

Ceanothus americanus flowerIndividual flower close-up.

Ceanothus americanus fruits

Flowering - May - November.

Habitat - Prairies, glades, open woods, thickets, railroads.

Origin - Native to U.S.

Other info. - This is a common and easy to identify plant in Missouri. The showy flower heads are easy to spot from a distance and the fruits are unmistakable.
Steyermark gives two varieties for the state. Variety pitcheri T.&G. is described above. A rare variety, var. intermedius (Pursh) K. Koch, has smaller leaves which are glabrous above and only slightly pubescent below. This latter variety is only found in a couple of counties in the eastern portion of the state.
Another species, C. ovatus Desf., resembles C. americanus, but the former has peduncles which typically do not exceed the subtending leaf, leaves which are oblong-lanceolate to narrowly elliptic, and flower clusters which are more globose in shape. You can find C. ovatus in this same section of this website. The fruit picture above is actually of C. ovatus but they (the fruits) are practically identical.
C. americanus is a popular medicinal plant. The roots and leaves were boiled into tea and used for treating everything from snake bites to whooping cough. The roots contain alkaloids which lower blood pressure.

Photographs taken at the James C. McCormack Conservation Area, Holt County, MO., 6-30-00, and off Hwy 106, Shannon County, MO., 6-6-03.