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Calycanthus floridus

Calycanthus floridus

Carolina-allspice or sweetshrub is native to the eastern United States. Two varieties are recognized by the Flora of North America, with somewhat overlapping distributions: Calycanthus floridus var. floridus which has a range nudging a bit more to the east, and Calycanthus floridus var. glaucus, with a range extending a bit more north and west than var. floridus. Calycanthus floridus var. floridus has pubescent twigs, petioles and leaves (the abaxial surface), with its counterpart lacking these small hairs. I suspect the plant in today's photograph is Calycanthus floridus var. glaucus.

As its name implies, this is a fragrant species. Oils distilled from the flowers are purported to have a "fruity odour reminiscent of ripe apples", while the "bark of this tree [shrub] has a fragrance like cinnamon, for which it is sometimes used as a substitute" (both quotes are from Nigel Groom's The New Perfume Handbook). Flowers on this shrub (to 4m) smell like pineapple or strawberry, leading to two other common names: strawberry-shrub or pineapple-shrub.

Calycanthus floridus is recognized as a Plant of Merit by Missouri Botanical Garden. Additional photographs and writings about this taxon are available from Beautiful Wildlife Garden: Calycanthus floridus.

This photograph is from May of this year in the Asheville Botanical Gardens.


I raise Calycanthus occidentalis 'Western Sweet Shrub or Western Spice Bush', a western relative, whose predominately reddish flowers' fragrance is a welcome addition to the garden.

What a lovely photo - it almost captures the fragrance! The purpleness of the flower is indicative of the fruitiness of the fragrance, which seems to vary a good bit in blend and intensity. It wafts away from the plant on warm, humid days to intrigue you into finding the source. Then sometimes, even with your nose right in the flower, it's hard to detect the scent.

And the strange shape of the flowers, like some sort of botanical space object! Or some bizarre witch-hazel on steroids. They actually are rather showy as long as the site is not too shady - then they are quite hard to see. But, there's a cream-colored clone from Georgia, called "Athens", whose flowers are much more visible in the woodland-edge conditions Calycanthus favors.

The scent of 'Athens' is also reliably superb. I like the silvery fruits too.

I want to learn how to take photos like this.

Carolina allspice- sometimes I can smell it, usually I can't. But I will now try the bark!

I saw a variety with really large (up to 3") flowers this fall. That one I could smell.

Very nice use of depth of field, and it suits the subject perfectly.

I've grown Calycanthus floridus var. floridus for a number of years. It takes me by surprise each year, I catch the fragrance and have to follow my nose to the source. The fragrance of mine reminds me of ripe cantelope.

I have a large specimen of C. floridus v. floridus about 10+ years old here in my Puget Sound garden. It flowered poorly this year (2011), but generally has ample reddish-brown flowers. In all these years, I've never noticed any fragrance from the flowers. Also, the leaves are larger on vigorous new basal shoots than on old wood.

While I enjoy the rather tropical appearance of the plant, it should be noted by retailers and in other info that it tends to sucker. This is an opportunity to acquire new plants, but may become an unwelcome thicket if not managed well.

Bluestone Perennials is offering 2 hybrids with larger flowers - white, and red - than the species.

Not all calycanthus are fragrant, it's highly individual per plant. I have one that's 6 years old and not fragrant at all. If I'd known when I bought it that not all were fragrant, I would have gone with a named cultivar to guarantee the sweet scent.

After waiting for several years for my tiny C. Floridus to bloom, I was devastated to smell rotting apples and not the heavenly scent that is vaunted in most commentary. On the plus side, it has a lovely architectural quality to the branching, the fall color is a light clear yellow and I get a few of the unusual lumpy asynchronous seed pods that rattle nicely. I planted a podful of seeds and had low germination but it's always fun to try. In several years I will know if the rotting apple smell gene is passed along or not. Now growing a calycanthus sinensis which is a bit showier.

the photo would make a great cover for a calendar
i think we should have a bot a day calendar of our own

thank you all i really enjoyed reading the comments

I have to wonder if the scent perception varies by the person doing the smelling? I generally find both the East and West Coast species to be unpleasantly scented. The scent is very complex. For me, the first impression is pleasant but it quickly veers into the fermented/rotted range of scents with a longer sniff.

Calycanthus floridus grows very well here in coastal Rhode Island. At the URI Botanical Gardens we have C. floridus as well as the cultivar 'Hartlage Wine' with larger flowers. I read that it was a traditional dooryard plant in colonial days, because you would brush the leaves and twigs as you went in and out of the house, which would release the fragrance. I always thought it smells like cinnamon and cloves, but sometimes only very faintly.

Interesting thought from Eric in SF about variation in perception of scent depending on the individual. The sweetshrub in my yard is pushing 30 years old - still smells like very sweet, ripe (but not overly ripe) apples to me. My mother hated the smell and wouldn't garden in that area. On the other hand, my father loved to carry a crushed flower around with him when he walked around the yard. He loved the scent but didn't compare it to anything else. Just said, "It smells like sweetshrub."

I grew up with this plant, and it has always been a favorite. Let me make a couple of comments:

Not only do the flowers smell differenty from plant to plant, but also according to the age of the flower(s): I always thought it mostly smelled like strawberries and cloves.

C. occidentalis is similar but way bigger, but I find its flowers smell like vinegar. Calycanthus (Sinocalycanthus) chinensis has white flowers, but I believe scentless. It has been used in hybridizing with the other species with promising results: http://polk.ces.ncsu.edu/content/Venus+Sweetshrub.

The related Chimonanthus praecox ("Wintersweet") blooms very early and smells great;

The twigs of both N.A. Calycanthus are fragrant, especially C. floridus: I think they smell (and taste) like Vick's Vapo-Rub; I used to chew them all the time. The plant is very identifiable in winter: it has a subtle but distinctive dichotomous branch pattern.

Some clones of C.f. (or is it under some conditions?) are stoloniferous, not just suckering. Ants often live in the capsules, but I'm not sure if it's a special species. Incidentally, I have a bunch of seeds I brought back from Georgia this summer.

I have 2 Calycanthus floridus plants in my yard in Pella, Iowa. They have done fine here flowering and fruiting in zone 5a. They have been surviving even extended single digit temps over several winters- lovely reminders of the southern US flora that they are.

I have not had the pleasure of either seeing or smeling one of these "up close & personal" but I do think the flowers look like lovely little wine-coloured mini magnolia stellatas. It was a pleasure reading all of the entries concerning the different aspects and types--thanks to all.

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