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Comptonia peregrina

Family: Myricaceae
Genus: Comptonia (komp-TOH-nee-uh) (Info)
Species: peregrina (per-uh-GREE-nuh) (Info)
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Foliage Color:

Unknown - Tell us

Bloom Characteristics:

Unknown - Tell us

Water Requirements:

Drought-tolerant; suitable for xeriscaping

Where to Grow:

Grow outdoors year-round


6-12 in. (15-30 cm)

12-18 in. (30-45 cm)

18-24 in. (45-60 cm)

24-36 in. (60-90 cm)


15-18 in. (38-45 cm)

18-24 in. (45-60 cm)


USDA Zone 3a: to -39.9 C (-40 F)

USDA Zone 3b: to -37.2 C (-35 F)

USDA Zone 4a: to -34.4 C (-30 F)

USDA Zone 4b: to -31.6 C (-25 F)

USDA Zone 5a: to -28.8 C (-20 F)

USDA Zone 5b: to -26.1 C (-15 F)

USDA Zone 6a: to -23.3 C (-10 F)

USDA Zone 6b: to -20.5 C (-5 F)

USDA Zone 7a: to -17.7 C (0 F)

USDA Zone 7b: to -14.9 C (5 F)

Sun Exposure:

Full Sun

Sun to Partial Shade

Light Shade



Bloom Color:


Bloom Time:

Mid Summer




Other details:

Unknown - Tell us

Soil pH requirements:

6.1 to 6.5 (mildly acidic)

Patent Information:


Propagation Methods:

From seed; direct sow outdoors in fall

By simple layering

Seed Collecting:

Unknown - Tell us


This plant has been said to grow in the following regions:

Amston, Connecticut

Glastonbury, Connecticut

Voluntown, Connecticut

Valparaiso, Indiana

Falmouth, Maine

Davidsonville, Maryland

Bridgewater, Massachusetts

Eastham, Massachusetts

Haydenville, Massachusetts

Mashpee, Massachusetts

Norton, Massachusetts

West Yarmouth, Massachusetts

Lake, Michigan

Greenville, New Hampshire

Westmoreland, New Hampshire

Binghamton, New York

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Bear Creek, Pennsylvania

Lehighton, Pennsylvania

Media, Pennsylvania

Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania

Brattleboro, Vermont

Woodstock, Vermont

Blacksburg, Virginia

Snohomish, Washington

Ashland, Wisconsin

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Gardeners' Notes:


On Apr 25, 2017, Plantnut63 from Sacramento, CA wrote:

I've always been interested in growing this plant, but I live in Central California (USDA Zone 9B). Anyone know what its upper temperature tolerance is?


On Feb 17, 2017, Clint07 from Bethlehem, PA wrote:

Several specimens of it are doing well in the pollinator/hummingbird garden at Jacobsburg Environmental Education Center in Belfast PA. Zone 6, full sun, well drained slightly acidic soil. Great foliage plant.


On Oct 26, 2016, coriaceous from ROSLINDALE, MA wrote:

A suckering-spreading-colonizing shrub with attractive foliage that's fragrant when crushed. (The scent reminds me of bayberry.) The spring flowers are inconspicuous.

This can be a vigorous colonizer. Plant it where you won't mind its wandering ways, as in a naturalistic garden with plenty of space. ("Peregrina" means "wandering".) I often see it growing on roadsides in the wild.

Almost impossible to transplant, even container-grown plants from the nursery can often be difficult to establish. It prefers lean sandy soils, and its roots can fix atmospheric nitrogen. It's a good plant for stabilizing a bank or slope with difficult soil.

Propagation is difficult. Cuttings root in small percentages. Seeds are long-lived in the soil bank but have com... read more


On Oct 25, 2016, Rickwebb from Downingtown, PA wrote:

A fascinating small shrub with wonderful foliage that grows in dry or well-drained acid soils with a native range from Newfoundland and southeast Canada through most of New England, New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and down the Appalachians to northern Georgia, spots in Ohio, near Lake Michigan in Illinois and Indiana, northern Michigan, northeast Minnesota, and most of Wisconsin. This member of the Bayberry Family also has very fragrant foliage when crushed. The leaves are supposed to be edible by humans, as they are by deer. It is difficult to transplant, but it is often sold by native plant nurseries. It fixes nitrogen into the soil as it does ground sucker some. I've seen quite a few in the Poconos of Pennsylvania. I planted a small, young plant in the far backyard, but I think the ... read more


On Sep 21, 2016, bamboomary from Snohomish, WA wrote:

I garden in the Pacific Northwest in zone 8 a. I was unsuccessful the first time I tried to grow this in what I now believe was too much dry shade. I eventually pulled the struggling plant and called it quits. A few years later I found one small stressed out plant at a large local garden center and the price was right so I thought I would try it again. I planted it in more sun, richer soil and a naturally winter wet (not soggy) location. It has now been about three years and I have a very nice little colony under-planted with a small variegated Symphytum. The Symphytum is now getting overtaken by the Comptonia.


On Nov 1, 2014, eaim from Davidsonville, MD wrote:

I have had this plant for about 16 years...beautiful plant. In the late fall, the scalloped leaves are a combination of bronze, gold, red, and green before turning tan and dropping. I probably have it at its southernmost limit? I brought it with me from Maine, and planted it in a mix of horrible construction backfill and clay soil (dirt?), and it took off...
The plant is now about 4.5 feet high and sends out new sprouts rhizomatously. It has not grown much width-wise....but has filled out. I love it.


On Dec 28, 2010, Zephyrae13 from Saint Paul, MN wrote:

I would see this plant all over in the Brule River State Park up in Wisconsin. It always is found in sunny locations with well drained (sandy!), slightly acidic soil. It is found in conjunction with Jack, White, and Red Pine, blueberries, Hawkweed, Pussy toes, Bearberry, Barren Strawberry and Sand Cherry. The smell is citrusy, and sweet. Only a couple plants are needed for the fragrance to really get around. They have a deep tap root, so transplanting them from the wild successfully is nearly impossible. Best to start from seed, in my opinion. Good for a rock garden, bonsai, or a raised berm. Not alkalai or salt tolerant.


On Oct 5, 2010, dreamgreen from Weaverville, NC wrote:

I have not yet grown this plant but there is a very informative article about Sweet-fern including the best time to take cuttings at


On Sep 6, 2010, dmith7777 from East Brookfield, MA wrote:

This plant needs dry, sandy, crap soil with little or no nutrients,


On May 13, 2009, Tigernach from Charlottesville, VA (Zone 7a) wrote:

I've now killed this plant three times. I've been able to successfully culture it in a pot, but the moment I put it in the ground it always dies. For that mater, I've transplanted ones from the wild and established them in pots fairly easily. I just can't get them to grow in soil. There has got to be some soil requirement they need that I'm just not understanding... If someone figures that out then please post.


On May 11, 2009, EffieH from Amston, CT (Zone 6b) wrote:

Sweet fern grows wild in our area of Connecticut and we just ADORE it -- it's not only beautiful but smells so sweet. My husband and I tried digging one up from the wild one time and transplanting it to a dry rocky area in our yard, but it died immediately. I've since read that it is extremely hard to almost impossible to transplant a wild one and that you should look for nursery grown plants. We were hiking this weekend along some power lines in a hot, dry, rocky area and there was a whole field of sweetfern and I was inspired to see if I could buy some online. I just found some for sale on eBay from seller "WildthingsNursery" and ordered them -- I'm hoping I can get them to grow in my yard! I'll report back and let everyone know if they made it or not.

4/25/2010 ... read more


On Sep 2, 2008, Shrubman88 from Westmoreland, NH (Zone 4b) wrote:

This plant so far for me has been difficult to establish. I have tried to start numerous small plants that have been transplanted, and they have all wilted away.



On Aug 29, 2006, gregr18 from Bridgewater, MA (Zone 6b) wrote:

If you are walking in sandy pine woods in southeastern MA or on Cape Cod, it is difficult to escape this plant and its spicy scent. It doesn't like to be disturbed in the wild, and those who want to grow it should be able to find it available from New England nurseries that sell woody plants. Nursery stock takes transplanting and garden culture much better than wild stock, but the plant does need to be babied a bit while it establishes itself.


On May 22, 2005, ellyssian from Lehighton, PA (Zone 6b) wrote:

Sweet fern grows wild along my street - several neighbors have it growing in abundance. We have two 3x4' shrubs and two that are still single stem, 1-2' tall. They are growing on a bank, and seem to be hanging on in the face of some serious erosion.

The fragrance is strong enough to catch traces of it as you walk by, although I had to roll a leaf between my fingers to verify exactly where it was coming from.

I couldn't find anyone who could identify what it was, and early searches and modern books all failed me. One night I was flipping through a 1930's era book "Our Northern Shrubs" and there it was - very distinctive long leaves, that look like overlapping alternate plates that give it a fern-like look, hence the common name.

It does a grea... read more