New Jersey Tea; Wild Snowball; Red-root Ceanothus americanus
FlowersSmall, white, on white pedicels, crowded in dense, oblong, terminal clusters. Calyx white, hemispheric, 5-lobed; 5 petals, hooded and long-clawed; 5 stamens with long filaments; style short, 3-cleft. Stems: Shrubby, 1 to 3 ft. high, usually several, from a deep reddish root. Leaves: Alternate, ovate-oblong, acute at tip, finely saw-edged, 3-nerved, on short petioles.
Preferred HabitatDry, open woods and thickets.
DistributionOntario south and west to the Gulf of Mexico.
Light, feathery clusters of white little flowers crowded on the twigs of this low shrub interested thrifty colonial housewives of Revolutionary days not at all; the tender, young, rusty, downy leaves were what they sought to dry as a substitute for imported tea. Doubtless the thought that they were thereby evading George the Third’s tax and brewing patriotism in every kettleful added a sweetness to the home-made beverage that sugar itself could not impart. The American troops were glad enough to use New Jersey Tea throughout the war. A nankeen or cinnamon-colored dye is made from the reddish root.