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Calycanthus ‘Aphrodite’ – Carolina allspice

Calycanthus ‘Aphrodite’  has larger flowers and leaves than the species.

The only other sweetshrub I’ve seen that compares to Calycanthus ‘Aphrodite’ is Hartlage Wine, developed in the 1990’s by Dr. J.C. Raulston at North Carolina State University. It’s a credit to Dr. Raulston that he named the new cultivar after the student who hybridized it, Richard Hartlage. Then again, Dr. Raulston is a legend in the field of horticulture as much for what he gave as what he did.

Is Calycanthus ‘Aphrodite’ another progeny of that fine university?

I did a patent search and sure enough Calycanthus ‘Aphrodite’ is also a product of N.C. State. You can view the patent here. Apparently, JC Raulston Distinguished Professor Dr. Tom Ranney and his team have kept the flame alive.

The most striking visual feature of this cultivar is the large wine-colored flowers with yellow tepals. A tepal is when the sepals and petals are indistinguishable. Examples of plants with tepals are tulips, Lenten roses, and some lilies.

The flower form is reminiscent of some of our native magnolia species. It reminds me a bit of a purple-red Magnolia stellata. The flowers can reach 3″ across. Its largest bloom period comes in mid-May in Georgia. It will continue to produce a few flowers here and there throughout summer and early autumn.

The second thing I noticed was the plant tag identified this sweetshrub as the native Calycanthus floridus. This is incorrect.

Calycanthus ‘Aphrodite’ is a hybrid between Calycanthus chinensis and Calycanthus occidentalis. One prominent national nursery includes ‘Aphrodite’ in its North American Native Collection. Calycanthus ‘Aphrodite’ is not native, which is fine by me. It has many of the great qualities of our native sweetshrub.

Calycanthus ‘Aphrodite’ is deer-resistant and easy to grow.

Calycanthus ‘Aphrodite’ is a deciduous multi-stemmed shrub that grows 4′-8′ tall and is hardy zones 5-9. Growth habit is open but not sprawling, as the stems are robust. You may find it to be a fuller growing shrub in full sun. I prefer it with a more open character, so I tend to plant Calycanthus in shadier locations.

Fall color is good to excellent, a pleasant yellow-green.

Developed in 2005 and patented in 2011, Calycanthus ‘Aphrodite’ is a relatively new introduction. You will often see nurseries recommend full sun, but I slightly disagree. Sweetshrubs are plants of the forest and work best when naturalized at the edge of woodlands. There are other plants whose habits suit formal sunny garden settings.

Calycanthus ‘Aphrodite’ is a woodland plant.

Every sweetshrub I’ve seen in the wild has been in dappled sunlight in wooded areas. I also know from direct experience sweetshrub will bloom in the shade. A perfect exposure would be morning sun and shade into late afternoon, an admittedly common theme with many of the plants I gravitate towards.

It is happiest in rich, well-drained soil. It likes moist soil although it does fine without supplemental watering in normal garden conditions once established.

In my experience, the Calycanthus hybrids grow at a steady rate best described as moderate. It certainly is not a slow grower. Conversely, it is not aggressive like hops. The native Calycanthus floridus is a more deliberate grower than the hybrids of N.C. State.

Prune Calycanthus after its first flush of flowering. Late June to early July would be an optimum time.

Genus/speciesCalycanthus ‘Aphrodite’
Common name(s)sweetshrub, Carolina allspice
Fall coloryes
Water requirementsaverage, moist soil conditions
Soil qualitywell-drained, average
Suggested use(s)cottage gardens, naturalized, woodlands
Hardiness zone(s)5a, 5b, 6a, 6b, 7a, 7b, 8a, 8b, 9a, 9b
Deer resistantyes
Deciduous or evergreendeciduous
Flower colorred
Bloom periodmid to late spring, summer
Exposurefull sun, afternoon shade, filtered light


  1. Glourise Haya

    Is this plant supposed to loose its leaves? How can you tell if it is still alive? I am in Southern CA and I purchased it from Home Depot’s website. So, it came to me dormant this past fall.

    • Barrie Collins

      Definitely deciduous. No worries as it will lead out in spring. Best, Barrie

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