Comptonia peregrina

Sweetfern, a compact shrub found across Atlantic North America, is striking due to the fern-like shape of its lobed leaves and their strong, pleasant scent, which is typical for all members of bayberry family, where the plant belongs. Sweetfern is a non-legume nitrogen fixer, growing mainly on dry, acidic, sandy or rocky sites and improving the soil there. It beautifies and mends difficult eroded slopes where no other woody plant would dare to grow. Sweetfern flowers at the start of May, before it produces the leaves. The male (staminate) flowers are at tips of branches in dangling catkins up to 2” long, while the fruiting flowers form tiny bright red clusters, which develop into fruit clusters in summer. The leaves provide food for several butterfly and moth caterpillars including gray hairstreak. This attractive and useful shrub is sometimes available at nurseries.

See all photos for this species at salicicola.com

Male (staminate) flowers, May 3

Female (pistillate) flowers, May 9

Fruits, June 23

Mending a steep eroded slope of a former sand quarry in Plymouth