White birches are pretty common in the northern U.S. and Canada. But another light colored bark has begun to cause comment. It's seven son shrub, Heptacodium miconioides. If it makes you do a double take, that's understandable since it has been in cultivation in North American only about 40 years -- hardly long enough to reach most home gardens.
It's a fast growing relative of honeysuckle that may be a shrubby tree or tall shrub, up to about 20 feet tall. Its bark is vanilla colored and peeling. White, very fragrant flowers open at the end of summer (giving rise to comparison to lilac in its alternate common name, reported below). Pink seed pods can be quite showy in October. There is no significant fall leaf color.
Well drained soil and sun to part shade suit it. We see many butterflies on the plants and have not in 20+ years seen any serious pest problems.
Here's a typical reaction from someone new to this plant. Late one fall, A.W. emailed to ask about,
...a shrub (?small shrubby tree?) blooming along the fence at the exit gate of the visitors' center at West Point Military Academy. It has ball-shaped "puffs" of bright red/deep mauve blossoms/seeds... No one... has any idea what the plant is... I don't want Security to suspect I might be a subversive...
After much bloodhounding, I've discovered the name of the mystery plant... Heptacodium miconioides, aka Autumn Lilac.
In winter, in fragrant bloom in late summer, in seed in fall: we like it!
What's Up 173: Passion vine scale, endangered plants, pothos