Sweetfern is a small but widely suckering shrub that energetically colonizes dry, acidic, sterile areas. Hair catkins crown the ends of the stems in late April and early May. Foliage is green and fragrant (it's in the Bayberry family), with a fern-like texture. It prefers more acid soil and is a nitrogen-fixing species. The semi-evergreen leaves of Comptonia peregrina turn bronzy green in late fall. It is an important host for butterfly and moth larvae, including several Sphinx moth species and the Gray Hairstreak butterfly.