What is wrong with my sweetspire?

Asked July 17, 2019, 8:54 AM EDT

I purchased 2 Virginia sweetspire (Little Henry) in the spring and they have not grown very much and they have flowered very little. They have wrinkled and misshaped leaves all over. Unfortunately they were like this when I bought them, and I thought they were young and maybe a late cold spell had affected them. Since I bought them from a reputable native plant arboreteum, I wasn't concerned. However, everyone that saw them in my garden, noticed immediately that they were not healthy. I have them planted in morning sun with afternoon shade, moist soil and great garden soil. Interesting, they are not dropping leaves, just stunted growth with misshaped leaves. No insects found. What is the problem? Thanks for your help.

Anne Arundel County Maryland

1 Response

Itea is usually pest free and we agree with you in thinking that this is not disease or insect related, but rather abiotic (environmental, mechanical or chemical).
Late cold damage was a good guess and could distort the first leaves but not likely to this extent.
We wonder if it could be residual damage of the use of a weed-control herbicide, particularly one containing a growth regulator, either at the nursery or in your yard.
It could have been an accidental overspray (spray drift) or volitization, where some chemicals can move long distances when used in certain weather conditions.
Here is our page on Herbicide Injury:

It would be interesting to know if the nursery you purchased from uses weed control herbicides.

It's impossible to say if the plant will outgrow the issue.
We'd suggest doing a prune test. Prune back some of the foliage and see if the new growth flushes out normally.