This first thing I noticed about the mountain sweet pepperbush (Clethra acuminata) was its bark. There before me was a lanky looking tree with beautiful cinnamon-colored bark that peeled back in thin sheets. The effect was a mottle appearance that didn't seem right for where I was hiking. A closer inspection revealed spikes of flower buds that were weeks away from blooming. This was a species I was going to have to keep my eyes on.
The mountain sweet pepperbush (sometimes called cinnamonbark) is native to a small chunk of eastern North America from Pennsylvania down into Georgia and Alabama. It enjoys acidic, rocky soils and is perfectly at home in the Appalachian Mountains. It isn't a large tree, topping out around 20 feet or so but what it lacks in stature it makes up for in beauty.
Come mid summer the long spikes put forth a spray of beautiful white flowers. The trees come alive with pollinators to the point that you can literally hear them humming. Though it may not be apparent, the genus Clethra is a distant relative of the heath family. However, taxonomists find it distinct enough to warrant its own family, Clethraceae. Regardless of its taxonomic affinity, this is one tree that needs to find its way into native landscaping. It is such a stunning plant and does well in in both shade and full sun. Few trees are as stunning to come across on a hike than this one and its a species I will look fondly upon for the rest of my life.