Calycanthus floridus has many common names, among which are Carolina spicebush and Eastern sweetshrub. This deciduous shrub is native to the Eastern United States, from New York and Missouri, south through the Appalachian Mountains, Piedmont, and Mississippi Valley, to Louisiana, and east to northern Florida. It is found in rich low shady woodlands, deciduous or mixed woodlands, along streams and rivers.
Fragrant with scents of fruit and spice, the unusual flowers of Eastern sweetshrub make this plant a welcome specimen for the garden. Calycanthus floridus is widely cultivated as an ornamental plant by plant nurseries, including in the United States and England. Do you remember your grandmother’s yard and a fragrant bush with maroon flowers which smelled like a bubble gum? Sure you do! 🙂
Eastern sweetshrub leaves are opposite, oval with a gracefully and elegantly pointed tip, and satiny-green to dark-green with a lighter gray-green underside. The lotus-shaped flowers can resemble a small magnolia flower. They are axillary, with many brown-maroon, strap-like petals and wonderfully aromatic.
Sometimes ago, people would put a bloom in their pockets, so they would smell good when they went to church or to meet friends. Locate your plant near a patio or walkway so the fragrance can be noted. Among many cultivars you can definitely choose the one with the most appealing fragrance: more soured and less fruity, like strawberries or apples.
The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by insects. The fruit is an elliptic dry capsule, containing numerous elongated seeds.
Common names: Sweetshrub, Sweet shrub, Eastern sweetshrub, Strawberry Shrub, Bubby Bush, Carolina Allspice, Sweet Betsy, Florida Spice Bush, Flori
Synonyms: Calycanthus sterilis
Varieties: floridus (syn. C. mohrii) — twigs pubescent (hairy); glaucus (syn. C. fertilis) — twigs glabrous (smooth)
Cultivars: Athens (with green-yellow blossoms), Edith Wilder, Katherine, Michael Lindsey (a smaller, compact plant), Mrs Henry Type
Native: United States, Southeastern United States
Plant type: Deciduous. Shrub
Hardiness: USDA Hardiness Zone 5 – 10. UK zone 5.
Light: Partial Sun, Partial Shade. Can tolerate shade when grown in warm temperate zones.
Soil: Sand, Loam, Acidic, Neutral, Basic, Moist but Well-Drained
Moisture: Average Water, Drought Tolerant
Flowering period: April to July
Flower Color: Dark Reddish-Brown Maroon to Almost Red
Repeat Bloomer: No
Fragrant: All parts of the plant are richly fragrant. The flowers have a refreshing scent of ripe apples. The wood, leaves and roots smell strongly of camphor, whilst the bark smells like cinnamon.
Height: 180 – 300 cm (6 – 10 in)
Spread: 180 – 370 cm (6 – 12 in)
Time to plant: Plant seedlings late spring or early summer. Plants cuttings of half-ripe wood, July/August in a frame.
Propagation: By cuttings, by seed (best sown in a cold frame as soon as it is ripe), by dividing the rootball
Uses: Border, Screening, Ornamental, Foundation, Hedges
photo by perennialsolutions.org
Culinary uses: It is said that the aromatic bark when dried could be used as a substitute for cinnamon (but see toxicity warnings below).
Medicinal uses: Calycanthus were used as a traditional medicinal plant by Native Americans. It is said to have antispasmodic and disinfectant effect. The plant contains an alkaloid that has a powerfully depressant action on the heart. A tea made from the root or bark has been used as a strong emetic and diuretic for kidney and bladder ailments. A cold tea has been used as eye drops to treat a failing eyesight. An ooze from the bark has been used to treat children’s sores, and an infusion has been used to treat hives.
Other uses: Calycanthus oil, distilled from the flowers, is an essential oil used in some quality perfumes. The flowers of Calycanthus floridus were compared to a bubble gum scent by one reference.
Fertilizer: Tell us if you know
Has Thorns: No, but rough to the touch
Toxicity: Calycanthus contains calycanthine, an alkaloid similar to strychnine, and it is toxic to humans and livestock. Ruminants are reported to have a toxic reaction from grazing this plant. Some sources say that Calycanthus is toxic only if large quantities eaten.
Tips: Sweetshrub succeeds in most fertile soils. It tolerates deeper shade and drier soils, but will not grow as robustly or flower as heavily as you would hope. Any pruning should be done immediately after flowers fade. This plant is resistant to deer.
Cover photo by arboretum-adeline
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Safety notes: This website is for educational purposes only and is not medical advice, and please check with your doctor before using plants if you are pregnant, using medications or have other health conditions.