Ceanothus americanus shrub to 1 m tall, 1.5 m wide, much branched; roots able to fix nitrogen; young stems green, becoming brown; resprouts after fire from deep woody root crown (USDA, NRCS 2006; Rook 2004).
Leaves alternate, 3- 8 cm long, 1-4 cm wide, narrowly egg-shaped, tip blunt to acute, base blunt, 3 major veins palmate, surface finely hairy, corrugated by impressed veins, margin toothed; stems eaten by white-tailed deer (Rook 2004).
Flowers white, fragrant, petals 5, the bases very narrow (clawed) 0.1 cm long, tips folded or cupped, 0.1 cm long and wide; sepals flexed inward between petals, deciduous; stamens 5, longer than petals (exserted), anthers purple; ovary 3-parted, immersed in a purple nectary ring (Yatskievych 2006); inflorescences densely cylindrical or rounded, of small, umbrella-shaped clusters on a branched axis; inflorescence stalk to 20 cm long; in axils of current year’s growth; blooms May-July. Flower visitors include bees, wasps, flies, beetles, butterflies, moths and hummingbirds (Hilty 2006).
Fruit purple-black, 3-lobed, 0.4-0.6 cm long and wide, at first thinly-fleshy becoming dry, each lobe splitting open to forcibly eject seeds (Hilty 2006); matures Aug.-Oct.
Wetland status: NL.
Frequency in NYC: Very infrequent. One plant known in the City, possibly shaded out by now.
Habitat: Open areas or light shade, soil pH 4.3-6.5. tolerant of shade, intolerant of salt (USDA, NRCS 2006).
Notes: Reported from most of southern New York State, New Jersey and Connecticut. Formerly a popular medicinal plant as a tea (Yatskievych 2006).