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Calycanthus floridus – Sweetshrub, Carolina Allspice

I was seventeen the first time the fragrance of Calycanthus floridus hit me, standing in the Georgia woods. I’m glad this memory is written down somewhere, a moment known only to those who read these words. If those who come after know only that I loved my children and the smell of sweetshrub it is enough. They say the memory of scent lasts a long time, and I reckon it is true.

Most gardeners I know call it sweetshrub. It’s a fairly unpretentious shrub. It is surely a nuanced choice for informal gardens.

Calycanthus floridus (Eastern sweetshrub or Carolina allspice) is native to most of the eastern United States.

Calycanthus floridus - Carolina allspice
Sweetshrub (Calycanthus floridus)

When not in bloom sweetshrub is easy to miss. It is an unpretentious shrub in a world full of rhododendrons and trilliums. The first time you find Calycanthus floridus, it will most likely be because it is in bloom and the scent draws you in. The scent is like strawberries.

Carolina allspice is very easy to grow. It is a great choice for beginners to native plants.

If you are interested in including native plants in your garden, Calycanthus would be an excellent start. Carolina allspice can handle full sun to shade. Calycanthus floridus is an excellent choice for new gardeners wishing to focus their energies on native plants. You do not need to be picky about soil type and quality.

Sweetshrub can handle dry to moderately wet soil conditions, and it has no pests or diseases that truly threaten it in the garden or landscape.

Carolina allspice
Carolina allspice (sweetshrub)

Carolina allspice grows to 6′-12′ and is a deciduous shrub. Nobody I know gets excited about sweetshrub’s leaves. Calycanthus floridus is hardy from New York to Florida. The flowers are gorgeous up close, a dark wine color. The strap-like petals are unusual. Due to the intensely dark color of sweetshrub’s flowers, it is not an impressive sight from a distance. The flowers blend almost completely into the background. Get up close.

Given enough time, a colony of Carolina allspice (Calycanthus floridus) is inevitable.

As the Lady Bird Johnson Wildlife Center reports, suckering is prolific with Calycanthus floridus. Colonization will take years.

The hybrid sweetshrub, Hartlage Wine has larger flowers. Hartlage Wine is a beautiful plant. I truly respect the breeder’s intent. I prefer the unpretentious nature of our native sweetshrub.

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