I think we are all familiar with spirea as a landscape ornamental. Familiar cultivars with names like Bridal Wreath, Gold Flame, Little Princess, and Neon Flash grace gardens across the South. Most of these have flat or rounded clusters of pink or white flowers in early summertime.
Contrast this flower arrangement with Steeplebush. The terminal flower clusters on this woody, native shrub are elongated, or “steeple-shaped”, hence the common name. Each cluster bears dozens of tiny, 5-petalled, pink flowers that surround a brownish stem. The stem and leaves are distinctively covered with a fine pubescence or tomentum. The leaves are alternate, elliptic in shape, and toothed; the color of the leaf is darker on top than on the bottom.
I found these bushes in full flower in early August. There were many of them growing on the edge of a beaver pond and in the wetland above the parking lot at Glen Alton. Wet places like this provide excellent habitat for this particular Spiraea species.
Steeplebush is another native plant that was used historically by Native Americans. Teas made from the leaves and flowers of steeplebush were used to relieve the nausea of pregnancy and the symptoms of dysentary. It also has astringent and diuretic properties.