New Jersey Tea

Ceanothus americanus


Illustration of New Jersey tea leaves, flowers, fruits.
New Jersey tea (Ceanothus americanus).
Paul Nelson

Rhamnaceae (buckthorns)


New Jersey tea is a low, much-branched shrub, with a woody stem and herbaceous upper branches.

Flowers are aromatic, on branching clusters arising on long stalks from leaf axils, those from lower part of stems much longer than upper; in small, rounded panicles of tiny white flowers, reminiscent of tiny lilac clusters. Each petal looks like a tiny spoon. Blooms May–June.

Leaves are alternate, broadly ovate, sessile, finely toothed, on petioles.

Similar species: Redroot (C. herbaceus) is somewhat shorter, with dense, flat-topped inflorescences and leaves that are narrow and oblong to elliptical. It blooms April–June and is found in prairies, fields, and uplands in the western part of Missouri only.


Height: to 3 feet.

Habitat and conservation

Occurs in open woods, upland prairies, glades, and thickets. It has gained popularity as a small, native, drought-resistant flowering shrub in gardening. It attracts hummingbirds and butterflies and makes a good shrubby border or a ground cover for hot, dry slopes. It does best in sandy or rocky soils with good drainage. Because it is difficult to transplant, it is best to get plants from nurseries instead of digging from the wild.

image of New Jersey Tea distribution map
Distribution in Missouri


Human connections

Native Americans used this plant medicinally, and they probably taught European colonists to make a noncaffeinated tea from the leaves of this plant. By the time of the Revolutionary War, patriotic Americans sipped "New Jersey tea" instead of imported (and taxed) English black tea.

Ecosystem connections

Deer and other mammals browse the foliage, and several kinds of birds eat the seeds. Several butterflies and moths use it as their larval food plant. This is one of the many representative plants of the tallgrass prairie, but one of the very few that are truly woody.