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(Clethra family)


• Medicinal / Folk-medicinal aspects: •
• Adverse effects: The nickel- and cobalt-accumulating properties of some species may be of dermatological significance in geographic regions where the soil in which the plants grow contains high levels of these elements. •
• Veterinary aspects: •

According to Plants of the World Online [accessed May 2021], this is a family of about 92 species of shrubs and trees in two genera, namely Clethra L. and Purdiaea Planch., members of the latter having formerly been included in the closely related Cyrillaceae (see Willis 1973). They are found on the Asian and American continents, and on Madeira.

Some species are grown as ornamentals for their fragrant flowers, including Clethra alnifolia L., Clethra arborea Aiton, Clethra barbinervis Siebold & Zucc., Clethra delavayi Franch., and Clethra fargesii Franch. (Wright & Dewar 1913, Hunt 1968/70).

Clethra alnifolia L.
[syns Clethra angustifolia Raf., Clethra pubescens Willd.]
Bush Pepper, Summersweet Clethra, Pepperbush, Coastal Sweetpepperbush

[Information available but not yet included in database]

Clethra barbinervis Siebold & Zucc.
[syns Clethra japonica Thunb. ex Steud., Clethra wuyishanica R.C.Ching ex L.C.Hu]
Japanese Clethra, Pepperbush

This Japanese tree can accumulate anomalous quantities of cobalt and nickel from soils rich in these elements. Yamagata & Murakami (1958) reported 660 µg/g (ppm) cobalt in the ash of the leaves, and 140 ppm nickel. Similarly, Okamoto et al. (1978) found raised levels of cobalt (32 ppm) and nickel (12 ppm) in the dried leaves of this plant from a different geographic area. The contact sensitising capacity of nickel and cobalt and their salts is well documented (Malten et al. 1976, Cronin 1980).

[Further information available but not yet included in database]

Clethra revoluta Spreng.
[syns Clethra nervosa Loisel., Cuellaria revoluta Ruiz & Pav.]

[Information available but not yet included in database]


  • Cronin E (1980) Contact Dermatitis. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone [WorldCat]
  • Hunt P (Ed.) (1968/70) The Marshall Cavendish Encyclopedia of Gardening. London: Marshall Cavendish [WorldCat]
  • Malten KE, Nater JP, van Ketel WG (1976) Patch Testing Guidelines. Nijmegen: Dekker & van de Vegt [WorldCat]
  • Okamoto K, Yamamoto Y, Fuwa K (1978) Accumulation of manganese, zinc, cobalt, nickel, and cadmium by Clethra barbinervis. Agricultural and Biological Chemistry 42(3): 663-664 [doi] [url] [url-2]
  • Willis JC (1973) A Dictionary of the Flowering Plants and Ferns, 8th edn. (Revised by Airy Shaw HK). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press [WorldCat]
  • Wright CH, Dewar D (1913) Johnson's Gardener's Dictionary, revised and enlarged edn. London: G. Bell and Sons [WorldCat]
  • Yamagata N, Murakami Y (1958) A cobalt-accumulator plant, Clethra barbinervis Sieb. et Zucc. Nature 181(4626): 1808-1809 [doi] [url]
  • [ + 8 further references not yet included in database]

Richard J. Schmidt

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