spiraea, any plant of the genus Spiraea, Northern Hemisphere deciduous shrubs of the family Rosaceae (rose family). Most are indigenous to central and E Asia, whence come most of the popular ornamental species, e.g., the bridal wreath (S. x prunifolia), native to Japan, and its similar hybrid S. vanhouttei. In these species the fragrant, spirelike flower clusters typical of the genus are borne on long, arching branches. Spiraeas native to North America include the hardhack, or steeplebush (S. tomentosa), a local source of astringent and tonic, and the meadowsweets (several species). The name meadowsweet is also applied to the related genus Filipendula, tall, hardy perennials (also often cultivated) formerly classified as Spiraea because of the similar showy blossoms. Filipendula includes the Eurasian dropwort (F. hexapetala), the queen of the meadow (F. ulmaria), now naturalized in the United States, and the North American queen of the prairie (F. rubra). Spiraeas are classified in the division Magnoliophyta, class Magnoliopsida, order Rosales, family Rosaceae.
For the European and west Asian herb, see Meadowsweet.

Spiraea (Meadowsweet) is a genus of about 80-100 species of shrubs in the Rosaceae, subfamily Spiraeoideae. They are native to the temperate Northern Hemisphere, with the greatest diversity in eastern Asia.

Spiraea species are used as food plants by the larvae of some Lepidoptera species including Brown-tail, Emperor Moth, Grey Dagger, Hypercompe indecisa and Setaceous Hebrew Character.

The genus was formerly treated as also containing 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.

Uses and toxicity

Spiraea (also known as Meadowsweet) is too woody to be used as an edible plant, but has a long history of medicinal use by Native Americans as an herbal tea. The entire plant contains methyl salicylate and other salicylates, compounds with similar medicinal properties of aspirin. Unlike other salicylate-bearing plants such as willow or poplar, meadowsweet's content of these analgesic compounds remain consistent from plant to plant. Unlike aspirin, meadowsweet is effective in treating stomach disorders in minute amounts. The salicylates in this plant are a highly effective analgesic, anti-inflammatory, and fever reducer, without the side affects attributed to aspirin. Compounds in this plant also contain bacteriostatic properties, and the tea of this plant was used by the Blackfeet Indians as an enema and vagina douche to treat infections of the bowels and vaginal area.

In pure form, methyl salicylate is toxic, especially when taken internally. The lowest published lethal dose is 101 mg/kg body weight in adult humans. It has proven fatal to small children in doses as small as 4 mL. A 17 year-old cross-country runner at Notre Dame Academy on Staten Island, died April 3, 2007, after her body absorbed high levels of methyl salicylate through excessive use of topical muscle-pain relief products. Methyl Salicylate is used as a rubefacient in deep heating liniments, and in small amounts as a flavoring agent in chewing gums and other products at no more than 0.04%.

Selected species

  • Spiraea alba (Narrow-leaved Meadowsweet)
  • Spiraea amoena
  • Spiraea arcuata
  • Spiraea baldschuanica
  • Spiraea bella
  • Spiraea betulifolia
  • Spiraea blumei
  • Spiraea calcicola
  • Spiraea cana
  • Spiraea canescens
  • Spiraea cantoniensis
  • Spiraea chamaedryfolia
  • Spiraea crenata
  • Spiraea decumbens
  • Spiraea densiflora
  • Spiraea douglasii (Hardhack)
  • Spiraea gemmata
  • Spiraea henryi
  • Spiraea hypericifolia
  • Spiraea japonica (Japanese Spiraea)
  • Spiraea latifolia (Broad-leaved meadowsweet)

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

  • Spiraea × arguta (S. × multiflora × S. thunbergii)
  • Spiraea × billardii (S. douglasii × S. salicifolia)
  • 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)
  • 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)
  • Spiraea × watsoniana (S. douglasii × S. densiflora)


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