A deciduous shrub about 3 ft high, with slightly downy or glabrous young wood and reddish roots. Leaves alternate, ovate, sometimes broadly heart-shaped; 2 to 3 in. long, 3⁄4 to 2 in. wide; finely toothed, downy especially beneath, with three conspicuous veins; leaf-stalks 1⁄4 to 1⁄2 in. long. Flowers very small and numerous, in a series of long-stalked, dense panicles proceeding from the axils of the uppermost leaves of the current season’s growth. The actual cluster of flowers is 1 to 2 in. long, on a downy stalk about twice its own length, the individual flower very tiny, less than 1⁄8 in. diameter, dull white, on a thread-like stalk 1⁄3 in. long. Fruit dry, somewhat triangular, 1⁄5 in. wide. Flowers in June and July. Bot. Mag., t. 1479.
Native of the Eastern and Central States of N. America, and the oldest of the genus in gardens, having been introduced to England in 1713. It is not often seen true now, being largely superseded by the prettier and showier hybrids, of which it is one of the parents. It requires no protection, and is, perhaps, the hardiest in the genus. Its popular name is said to have arisen from the leaves being used as a substitute for tea, especially during the American Revolutionary war.
This species is somewhat variable in the natural state. Densely downy forms found in the Mississippi basin are sometimes given varietal status as var. pitcheri Torr. & Gr.; smaller-leaved plants, with more numerous panicles, occur in the coastal plain and have been named var. intermedius Torr. & Gr.