Spiraea /spˈrə/,[1] sometimes spelled spirea in common names, and commonly known as meadowsweets or steeplebushes, is a genus of about 80 to 100 species[2] of shrubs in the family Rosaceae. They are native to the temperate Northern Hemisphere, with the greatest diversity in eastern Asia.

The genus formerly included the herbaceous species now segregated into the genera Filipendula and Aruncus; recent genetic evidence has shown that Filipendula is only distantly related to Spiraea, belonging in the subfamily Rosoideae.


Flower diagram of Spiraea hypericifolia
Spiraea betulifolia
Spiraea japonica 'Goldflame' 06
Spiraea betulifolia in autumn

Spiraea plants are hardy, deciduous-leaved shrubs. The leaves are simple and usually short stalked, and are arranged in a spiralling, alternate fashion. In most species, the leaves are lanceolate (narrowly oval) and about 2.5 to 10 centimetres (0.98 to 3.94 in) long. The leaf margins are usually toothed, occasionally cut or lobed, and rarely smooth. Stipules are absent.

The many small flowers of Spiraea shrubs are clustered together in inflorescences, usually in dense panicles, umbrella-like corymbs, or grape-like clusters. The radial symmetry of each flower is fivefold, with the flowers usually bisexual, rarely unisexual. The flowers have five sepals and five white, pink, or reddish petals that are usually longer than the sepals. Each flower has many (15 to 60) stamens. The fruit is an aggregate of follicles.[2]


Spiraea species are used as food plants by the larvae of many Lepidoptera species, including the brown-tail, the small emperor moth, the grey dagger, the setaceous Hebrew character, and the moth Hypercompe indecisa.

The leaves of S. betulifolia are eaten by blue grouse in spring, and the plant is browsed by deer in summer.[3]



Native Americans ate the species S. betulifolia.[4]


Spiraea japonica

Many species of Spiraea are used as ornamental plants in temperate climates, particularly for their showy clusters of dense flowers. Some species bloom in the spring, others in midsummer.

The following species, hybrids and cultivars are among those found in cultivation:

  • S. 'Arguta'
  • S. betulifolia
  • S. canescens
  • S. cantoniensis
  • S. × cinerea
  • S. douglasii
  • S. japonica
  • S. nipponica
  • S. prunifolia
  • S. × pseudosalicifolia
  • S. salicifolia
  • S. 'Snow White'
  • S. thunbergii
  • S. trichocarpa
  • S. × vanhouttei
  • S. veitchii[5]

Spiraea 'Arguta' (bridal wreath)[6] and Spiraea × cinerea 'Grefsheim'[7] have won the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit.

Traditional medicine

Spiraea contain salicylates. Acetylsalicylic acid was first isolated from Filipendula ulmaria,[citation needed] a species at the time classified in the genus Spiraea. The word "aspirin" was coined by adding a- (for acetylation) to spirin, from the German Spirsäure, a reference to Spiraea.[8][9][10]

Native American groups have various medicinal uses for local Spiraea species. S. betulifolia is used for abdominal pain and made into a tea.[11] The Blackfoot use S. splendens root in an enema and to treat venereal conditions.[12]


Native Americans found S. douglasii useful for making brooms and hanging seafood to cook.[13]


Spiraea thunbergii

Formerly placed here


There are also numerous named hybrids, some occurring naturally in the wild, others bred in gardens, including several important ornamental plants:

  • Spiraea × arguta (S. × multiflora × S. thunbergii) – garland spiraea
  • Spiraea × billiardii (S. douglasii × S. salicifolia) – Billiard's spiraea
  • Spiraea × blanda (S. nervosa × S. cantoniensis)
  • Spiraea × brachybotrys (S. canescens × S. douglasii)
  • Spiraea × bumalda (S. japonica × S. albiflora)
  • Spiraea × cinerea (S. hypericifolia × S. cana)
  • Spiraea × conspicua (S. japonica × S. latifolia)
  • Spiraea × fontenaysii (S. canescens × S. salicifolia)
  • Spiraea × foxii (S. japonica × S. betulifolia)
  • Spiraea × gieseleriana (S. cana × S. chamaedryfolia)
  • Spiraea × macrothyrsa (S. douglasii × S. latifolia)
  • Spiraea × multiflora (S. crenata × S. hypericifolia)
  • Spiraea × notha (S. betulifolia × S. latifolia)
  • Spiraea × nudiflora (S. chamaedryfolia × S. bella)
  • Spiraea × pikoviensis (S. crenata × S. media)
  • Spiraea × pyramidata (S. betulifolia × S. douglasii) – pyramid spiraea
  • Spiraea × revirescens (S. amoena × S. japonica)
  • Spiraea × sanssouciana (S. japonica × S. douglasii)
  • Spiraea × schinabeckii (S. chamaedryfolia × S. trilobata)
  • Spiraea × semperflorens (S. japonica × S. salicifolia)
  • Spiraea × vanhouttei (S. trilobata × S. cantoniensis) – Van Houtte's spiraea
  • Spiraea × watsoniana (S. douglasii × S. densiflora)


  1. ^ Sunset Western Garden Book. 1995. 606–07.
  2. ^ a b Spiraea. Flora of China.
  3. ^ Whitney, Stephen (1985). Western Forests (The Audubon Society Nature Guides). New York: Knopf. p. 437. ISBN 0-394-73127-1.
  4. ^ Reiner, Ralph E. (1969). Introducing the Flowering Beauty of Glacier National Park and the Majestic High Rockies. Glacier Park, Inc. p. 20.
  5. ^ RHS A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants. United Kingdom: Dorling Kindersley. 2008. p. 1136. ISBN 978-1405332965.
  6. ^ "Spiraea 'Arguta'". RHS. Retrieved 5 March 2021.
  7. ^ "Spiraea × cinerea 'Grefsheim'". RHS. Retrieved 5 March 2021.
  8. ^ Scott, David L.; Kingsley, Gabrielle H. (2007). "Symptomatic drug treatment" (PDF). Inflammatory Arthritis in Clinical Practice. pp. 48–64. doi:10.1007/978-1-84628-933-0_3. ISBN 978-1-84628-932-3.
  9. ^ Harper, D. aspirin. Online Etymology Dictionary. 2013.
  10. ^ Weiss, H. J. (1974). Aspirin – A dangerous drug? JAMA 229(9), 1221-22.
  11. ^ Spiraea betulifolia. Native American Ethnobotany. University of Michigan, Dearborn.
  12. ^ Spiraea splendens. Native American Ethnobotany. University of Michigan, Dearborn.
  13. ^ Spiraea douglasii. Native American Ethnobotany. University of Michigan, Dearborn.
  14. ^ English Names for Korean Native Plants (PDF). Pocheon: Korea National Arboretum. 2015. p. 644. ISBN 978-89-97450-98-5. Archived from the original (PDF) on 25 May 2017. Retrieved 16 December 2016 – via Korea Forest Service.

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