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Virginia Spiraea

Virginia Spiraea (Spiraea virginiana)

Family: Rosaceae

Synonyms: None

Description: Clonal shrub reaching a height of 3 m tall; leaves oblanceolate and somewhat glaucus underneath; white flowers in corymbs.

Flowering: late June to early July Fruiting: July to early September

Similar Species: Spiraea alba may be confused with S. virginiana but flower clusters of S. alba are more elongate and leaves are more sharply toothed. The non-native S. japonica may also be confused with S. virginiana but the flowers are pink, leaves are more lanceolate, and has hairs on the branchlets. From a distance, Spiraea virginiana may be confused with Hydrangea aborescens.

Total Range: USA: AL, GA, KY, NC, OH, PA, TN, VA, WV.

State Range: Post-1990 records from Scioto County.

Habitats: Gravelbars and creek banks of mid-size streams.

Threats: Changes in stream hydrology and invasive species. Ogle (1992) lists Polygonum cuspidatum, Spiraea japonica and Rosa multiflora as threats.

Conservation Potential: This species has very specific habitat requirements and poor reproduction. One site is now protected by the state. Recent field surveys have found one new population on Scioto Brush Creek; however, surveys of other streams have not produced any new populations (Gardner & Moser 2007; Stine 1993).

Inventory Guidelines: Spiraea virginiana is a federally listed species and requires a federal collecting permit to collect. The species can be determined from detailed photographs of the plant, flowers, & habitat.

Comments: Spiraea virginiana is endemic to the southern Appalachians (Ogle 1991a). Stine first discovered this species in Ohio in 1991 on Scioto Brush Creek and it is presently known from a small stretch of this creek. This species is currently known from seven states and historically from Alabama and Pennsylvania. Appalachian spiraea typically grows along scoured sections of high gradient streams requiring periodic flooding. In Ohio, Spiraea virginiana occurs in this type of habitat. Sexual reproduction is very rare and suggests poor genetic variability (Anders & Murrell 2001, Ogle 1991b). Reproduction is primarily from vegetative propagules. Range-wide, fewer than 30 different genotypes are currently known (Anders and Murrell 2001; NatureServe 2006).

Ohio populations are small with 5 or less clones. This is similar to populations in other parts of its range. Some associates found at Ohio sites include Acer saccharum, Aconitum uncinatum, Alnus serrulata, Apocynum cannibinum, Aruncus dioicus, Betula nigra, Bohemeria cylindrica, Campsis radicans, Carex frankii, Carpinus caroliniana, Chasmanthium latifolium, Cornus amomum, Crataegus sp., Eupatorium fistulosum, Fraxinus pensylvanica, Glyceria striata, Helenium autumnale, Hydrangea arborescens, Hypericum prolificum, Iris cristata, Lindera benzoin, Lysimachia ciliata, Parthenocissus quinquefolia, Phlox paniculata, Pilea pumila, Platanus occidentalis, Salix caroliniana, Saururus cernuus, Senna hedecarpa, Thalictrum pubescens, Toxicodendron radicans, Ulmus americana, and Vitis riparia (Gardner & Moser 2007; Stine 1993). Future surveys could be done on Scioto Brush Creek and similar size streams in southeastern Ohio. Its Ohio range may be close to being known.

Selected References:

Anders, C.M. and Z.E. Murrell. 2001. Morphological, molecular, and biogeographical variation within the imperiled Virginia spiraea. Castanea 66(1-2): 24-41.

Brzyski, J. R. and T. M. Culley. 2011. Genetic variation and clonal structure of the rare, riparian shrub Spiraea virginiana (Rosaceae). Conserv. Genet. 12: 1323-1332. 

Brzyski, J. R., and T. M. Culley. 2013. Seed germination in the riparian zone: the case of the rare shrub, Spiraea virginiana (Rosaceae). Castanea 78: 87-94.   

Clarkson, R.B. 1959. The West Virginia spiraea. Castanea 24(4): 143-146.

Emery, K. 2014. Effects of Open Pollination, Selfing, Inbreeding, and Outbreeding on Seed Set and Viability in Spiraea virginiana Britton (Rosaceae). University of North Carolina at Asheville Journal of Undergraduate Research, Asheville, NC.

Gardner, R.L. and M. Moser. 2007. Surveys for Virginia spiraea & Virginia sneezeweed. Ohio Division of Natural Areas and Preserves, Columbus, Ohio.

Gleason, H.A., and A. Cronquist. 1991. Manual of vascular plants of northeastern United States and adjacent Canada. New York Botanical Garden, Bronx, New York. 910 pp.

Greene, D. 2012. Sexual reproduction and genetic variation in Spiraea virginiana Britton (Virginia spiraea), a rare, riparian shrub. University of North Carolina at Asheville Journal of Undergraduate Research, Asheville, NC.  

Horton, J.L., J. McKenna,C.R. Rossell, Jr., H.D. Clarke, J.R. Ward, and S.C. Patch. 2015. Habitat Characteristics of Spiraea virginiana Britton, a Federally Threatened Riparian Shrub, in North Carolina. Castanea 80(2): 122–129.

Jones, R.L. 2005. Plant life of Kentucky: an illustrated guide to the vascular flora. The University Press of Kentucky, Lexington, Kentucky. 856 pp.

NatureServe. 2006. NatureServe Explorer: An online encyclopedia of life [web application]. Version 6.1. NatureServe, Arlington, Virginia. Available http://www.natureserve.org/explorer. (Accessed: December 15, 2006).

Ogle, D.W. 1991a. Spiraea virginiana Britton: I. Delineation and distribution. Castanea 56(4): 287-296.

Ogle, D.W. 1991b. Spiraea virginiana Britton: II. Ecology and species biology. Castanea 56(4): 297-303.

Ogle, D.W. 1992. Virginia spiraea (Spiraea virginiana Britton) recovery plan. Submitted to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

Pate, S. 2010. Phylogeography and mating system of Spiraea virginiana Britton: A multi-scale exploration of the biology of a threatened species. MS thesis, Appalachian State University, Boone, NC. 115 pp.

Rossell C.R. Jr., Kathryn Selm H. David Clarke , Jonathan L. Horton , Jennifer Rhode Ward and Steven C. Patch. 2013. Impacts of Beaver Foraging on the Federally Threatened Virginia Spiraea (Spiraea virginiana) along the Cheoah River, NC.  Southeastern Naturalist, 12(2):439-447. 

Stine, S.J., 1993. Inventory for Virginia spiraea (Spiraea virginiana Britton) in Ohio. Final report to Ohio Division of Natural Areas & Preserves, Columbus, Ohio.

Strausbaugh, P.D., and E.L. Core. 1978. Flora of West Virginia. Seneca Books, Inc., Grantsville, West Virginia. 1079 pp.

Updated 8/2020

For more information:

Division of Natural Areas and Preserves