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Calycanthus floridus ‘Athens’ – Sweetshrub

Calycanthus floridus ‘Athens’ (syn. ‘Katherine’) is a yellow-flowered variant of our native sweetshrub. Common names include Carolina allspice and strawberry bush. It is a beautiful and understated shrub.

Calycanthus ‘Athens’ is named after the city of Athens, Georgia. It was introduced to UGA Professor Michael Dirr by Jane Symmes. Dr. Dirr originally named the plant ‘Katherine’ for his daughter. This cultivar was discovered in the 1960s by Mary Brumby in Athens (Hatch L., Cultivars of Woody Plants: Genera C) and first introduced for sale in 1985.

As for the light yellow coloring, Calycanthus ‘Athens’ is an albino form due to a lack of anthocyanins, pigments that vary between red, purple, and blue, according to pH. Blueberries and raspberries owe their color to anthocyanins.

calycanthus floridus athens
Calycanthus floridus ‘Athens’

UGA professor Michael Dirr originally named the plant ‘Katherine’ for his daughter.

Calycanthus floridus Athens bears softly colored butter-yellow flowers on a shrub that grows to nine feet tall after many years in the garden. The color of the flowers is reminiscent of those on the native tree Liriodendron tulipifera (tulip poplar)…perhaps a little softer.

Calycanthus floridus ‘Athens’ is native and deciduous, with attractive yellow fall color.

I spend a lot of time examining the gigantic specimen over at the State Botanical Garden of Georgia, and the flowers are so light that from a distance of over ten feet they blend into the medium-light green foliage.

Calycanthus floridus is most famous for the intense strawberry fragrance…old-timers call it ‘strawberry bush’. Calycanthus floridus ‘Athens’ has a reputation of having outstanding fragrance. I have found all of the Calycanthus floridus species to be highly variable in the intensity of fragrance. Sometimes the scent is superb and other times it is virtually non-existent.

Carolina allspice 'Athens'
Carolina allspice ‘Athens’.

Calycanthus floridus Athens in the garden

All of the sweetshrubs are easy to grow. Carolina allspice is drought tolerant and blooms May-early June. It is fine in full sun or partial shade. Water the first year until established. Calycanthus floridus ‘Athens’ is not choosy about soil, and unlike many shrubs and perennials, it can tolerate relatively heavy clay and poor drainage.

yellow sweetshrub
Calycanthus floridus ‘Athens’ (or ‘Katherine’).

Deer stories. Calycanthus floridus Athens is considered deer resistant. I was standing quietly photographing Carolina allspice ‘Athens’ one day at the botanical garden. A horticulturist was leading a tour group that happened to stop by a planting of bronze fennel.

The horticulturist was discussing deer-resistant plants. The tour leader commented that in the botanical garden’s experience, the deer eat everything and change the rules of what’s on the menu on a daily basis. An eight-foot fence surrounds The State Botanical Garden of Georgia. It is believed several generations of deer have been born and lived inside the fence for years.

Genus/speciesCalycanthus floridus ‘Athens’
Common name(s)carolina allspice, sweetshrub
Fall colorinsignificant
Water requirementsdrought tolerant, average
Soil qualityrich, well-drained, average
Suggested use(s)cottage gardens, mixed borders/perennial beds, native collections, naturalized, understory
Hardiness zone(s)7a, 7b, 8a, 8b, 9a, 9b, 10a, 10b
Deer resistantyes
Deciduous or evergreendeciduous
Flower colorcream, yellow
Bloom periodmid to late spring, summer
Exposurefull sun, afternoon shade, filtered light

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