New Jersey Tea

Media
Illustration of New Jersey tea leaves, flowers, fruits.
Safety Concerns
Name
Edible
Scientific Name
Ceanothus americanus
Family
Rhamnaceae (buckthorns)
Description

New Jersey tea is a low, much-branched shrub, with a woody stem and herbaceous upper branches.

Flowers are aromatic, on branching clusters arising on long stalks from leaf axils, those from lower part of stems much longer than upper; in small, rounded panicles of tiny white flowers, reminiscent of tiny lilac clusters. Each petal looks like a tiny spoon. Blooms May–June.

Leaves are alternate, broadly ovate, sessile, finely toothed, on petioles.

Similar species: Redroot (C. herbaceus) is somewhat shorter, with dense, flat-topped inflorescences and leaves that are narrow and oblong to elliptical. It blooms April–June and is found in prairies, fields, and uplands in the western part of Missouri only.

Size
Height: to 3 feet.
Where To Find
image of New Jersey Tea distribution map
Statewide.
Occurs in open woods, upland prairies, glades, and thickets. It has gained popularity as a small, native, drought-resistant flowering shrub in gardening. It attracts hummingbirds and butterflies and makes a good shrubby border or a ground cover for hot, dry slopes. It does best in sandy or rocky soils with good drainage. Because it is difficult to transplant, it is best to get plants from nurseries instead of digging from the wild.
Native Americans used this plant medicinally, and they probably taught European colonists to make a noncaffeinated tea from the leaves of this plant. By the time of the Revolutionary War, patriotic Americans sipped "New Jersey tea" instead of imported (and taxed) English black tea.
Deer and other mammals browse the foliage, and several kinds of birds eat the seeds. Several butterflies and moths use it as their larval food plant. This is one of the many representative plants of the tallgrass prairie, but one of the very few that are truly woody.
Title
Media Gallery
Title
Similar Species

Where to See Species

About Trees, Shrubs and Woody Vines in Missouri
There are no sharp dividing lines between trees, shrubs, and woody vines, or even between woody and nonwoody plants. “Wood” is a type of tissue made of cellulose and lignin that many plants develop as they mature — whether they are “woody” or not. Trees are woody plants over 13 feet tall with a single trunk. Shrubs are less than 13 feet tall, with multiple stems. Vines require support or else sprawl over the ground.