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A shrub 3 to 6 ft high, with running roots and forming ultimately a dense thicket of erect stems, which are soon quite glabrous. Leaves lanceolate or narrowly oval, but sometimes broadest above the middle, 11⁄2 to 3 in. long, 1⁄2 to 1 in. wide, pointed, sharply and often doubly toothed, glabrous and green on both surfaces. Flowers rose-tinted white, crowded on erect, terminal, slightly downy panicles about 4 in. high, and 2 in. wide at the base.
Native of the Old World, where it is widely distributed from Central Europe through Russia and Mongolia to N. China, Korea and Japan; cultivated since the 16th century and widely naturalised in Europe, including Britain, to the west and north of its natural range. When once it obtains a footing, it appears to be able to hold its own against any other vegetation, spreading by its creeping suckers and forming an almost impassable thicket. Left to itself in this way, its inflorescences become poor; but cultivated in good garden soil and occasionally divided, it makes a handsome show in June and July.
S. alba Du Roi S. salicifolia var. paniculata Ait. – Often regarded as a variety of the preceding, this differs chiefly in its much larger compound panicles 8 to 12 in. long and as much wide, and the usually white flowers. The leaves are mostly oblong-lanceolate, 2 to 3 in. long, 3⁄8 to 3⁄4 in. wide. Native of N. America, where it is widely distributed in the north-eastern parts of the USA and extends into Canada.
S. latifolia (Ait.) Borkh. S. salicifolia var. latifolia Ait. – This N. American species is closely allied to the preceding, differing in the broadly oval to obovate leaves and glabrous inflorescence (downy in S. alba as in S. salicifolia). The flowers are often pink or flesh-coloured. It does not extend so far west as S. alba, but reaches farther north, to Newfoundland.