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Calycanthus: A Sweet Shrub For A Woodland Garden

When the leaves, bark or wood of this shrub are cut or bruised a spicy aroma is released.


Photo: autan (flickr)

Calycanthus in bloom.

The North American native Calycanthus belongs to a small genus.  When the leaves, bark or wood of this shrub are cut or bruised a spicy aroma is released.  It is this feature that has resulted in various common names such as sweet bush, strawberry sweet shrub and Carolina allspice.

Calycanthus is one of the most delightful shrubs for a woodland garden, and though it prefers moist woods, it adapts to a wide range of garden soils and conditions. Native to woodland areas from Virginia to Florida, it is hardy to zone 4 and flowers in shade, though it is more prolific in sun. The flowers resemble the form of magnolias but are smaller and are a deep reddish-brown in color. The leaves of some species, for example Calycanthus floridus, are broad and glossy with a downy underside. These shrubs flower in early summer and can scent an entire garden when they are in bloom.

Plants from this genus spread by new suckers, which can be removed along with old growth from the center of a plant in order to control the size. To ensure that you buy a plant with the best fruity fragrance, select a reliable cultivar such as ‘Michael Lindsay’, ‘Edith Walder’, or ‘Athens’. Or to be certain you like it, buy a plant that is in bloom after you have done a sniff test.

Moya Andrews

, originally from Queensland, Australia, served as Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Dean of the Faculties at Indiana University until 2004. In the same year, Moya began hosting Focus on Flowers for WFIU. In addition, Moya does interviews for Profiles, is a member of the Bloomington Hospital Board, and authored Perennials Short and Tall from Indiana University Press.

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