Virginia sweetspire is an attractive shrub native to the southeastern United States, including southern Illinois. It is cultivated for its summer bloom, its beautiful red fall foliage, and its shade and moist soil adaptability. The flowers are also attractive to butterflies. Itea virginica ‘Morton’ was selected in 1999 by Kris Bachtell of The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, Illinois, from a plant that has been in the Arboretum’s collection since the late 1950s. It has exhibited superior tolerance to alkaline soil, giving the plant deeper green foliage than any other sweetspire on the market when grown in the alkaline soils prevalent to much of the Midwest.
Hardiness has been proven to -25 °F in a laboratory situation; therefore, Itea virginica ‘Morton’ can be grown safely in USDA Zone 4, unlike most other sweetspire selections, which are hardy to USDA Zones 5 or 6. Partial winter tip dieback is the extent of winter injury observed over a lengthy trail period at the Chicago Botanic Garden. Itea virginica ‘Morton’ is a beautiful selection that is 3 to 4' tall and 3 to 4' wide, slowly spreading wider over time by suckers. The white flowers are densely borne on droopy, 3" long inflorescences that are produced from mid-June to early July, when few other shrubs are in bloom. The flowers have a faint but pleasing fragrance. The deep orange-red fall foliage peaks in early November and lasts through a very hard frost. For moist sites in sun to shade. Easy to propagate from cuttings or division. USDA Zones 4-9. A 2011 introduction.