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False spirea the Vigorous Shrub

By Stephanie Boles (josette63July 9, 2012

False spirea is a deciduous shrub with leaves that resemble a feather. It has clusters of billowy white blossoms which move like ballet dancers in the wind. It is a tough shrub with a delicate appearance. It is not a shrub for small gardens. Nor is it for those who want compact shrubs which mind their manners. This shrub requires its own quarter. It grows rapidly and will gladly spread to fill a space of 5 to 8 feet. If you need a shrub that will quickly naturalize areas prone to erosion this is the shrub for you.

Gardening picture(Editor's note:  This article was originally published on August 14, 2008.  Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to respond to your questions.)

Sorbaria sorbifolia is commonly called false spirea    
Also known as Ural false spirea and ash leaf spirea

Image This is my false spirea the day I planted it less than two years ago.

ImageImage This is my false spirea today.  It has grown to over 6 feet tall and spread to cover nearly a 5-foot area of fencing in less than two years.  I planted mine behind a lattice panel fence which I built to act as a partial windbreak and garden wall.  The false spirea is part of a grouping of shrubs I have arranged behind the fence to help break the wind and capture dust from the main road into our farm.  The wonderful feature about the false spirea is that it has grown to such a large size that it has created a feathery garden wall for added privacy in our yard.  It also makes a gorgeous background shrub for my other plants.  On the days when the wind blows gently I enjoy watching the false spirea dance gracefully on the breeze.

When researching this plant you will discover it is best grown in organically rich, well-drained soil.  My midwestern soil is clay based, and therefore heavy.  I have had no trouble growing false spirea in my heavy soil.  It will spread by root suckers, (stoloniferous roots), so be sure to remove the new plants it you do not want an entire colony, or goodness, an entire village of them in your yard! This plant can be invasive.  It is less invasive however in clay soil since the clay seems to inhibit its growth. You might want to consider giving your false spirea a good haircut by mowing it to the ground occasionally.  This should help to keep it under control.

Distinctive features: 

It bears a resemblance to the mountain ash.  (It is related to mountain ash, Sorbus)

Image It has long, arching branches with deep green pinnate (resembles a feather) leaves that give you a sense of being among the lush jungles of the tropics whenever you stand near it.  In the fall the leaf color changes to pure yellow gold.

Image The blooms are made up of downy white clusters at least 10 inches long.  It blooms in June and July.

ImageThe texture of the plant is somewhat coarse even though it has a fluttering, feathery appearance. 

Image The dehiscent (dehiscent simply means gaping) seeds appear after the blooms.  They age to an unremarkable brown.

General information:

False spirea is disease resistant and has no known pest problems.
For those of you searching for a plant that is tolerant of the sea air, this is a salt-tolerant shrub.
Prune false spirea in early spring since the flowers develop on new wood.


This shrub can be invasive and will quickly become a problem in small gardens or areas where you do not want large colonies of shrubs.  If grown in heavy clay soil this tends to somewhat hinder false spirea's propensity to sucker root.

Best uses for the plant:

Image False spirea is best suited for naturalizing areas such as erosion prone banks, slopes. Use it to create windbreaks or shrub borders where you desire an untamed look.  It would work for the background shrub in a large cottage garden as well.

Interesting fact: its native range is eastern Siberia, Korea, Japan, Manchuria and even in northern China.

Hardiness Zone: 2 to 9
Growth rate:  Fast. It reaches 5 to 10 feet tall, and just as wide.
Bloom time:  June to July
Moisture requirements:  Medium
Maintenance:  Low (If planted where you allow it to grow and spread as it wills.)

I hope you enjoy your false spirea as much as I enjoy mine.

All photos are from my gardens.

~Pleasant gardening


  About Stephanie Boles  
Stephanie BolesStephanie is a Floridian, transplanted to Missouri and married to a Missouri farmboy. She is a mother who enjoys the farm, teaching Sunday school, working as a church musician and a freelance writer. She spends a large part of her time helping the DH on building/remodeling their house. She designs the gardens and her DH helps to landscape them. She makes old fashioned bed dolls in her spare time. She is currently working on a historical romance book series. The first book of the series will be available for purchase in spring 2010. Book 2 in the summer of 2010.

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