Looking for a shrub which just as spring arrives bears the most unusual flowers not only in color but form as well and smell sweet, too? Then look no further, for the Sweetshrub, Calycanthus floridus, also know as Carolina Allspice is the one for you. Referred to as “truly an old-fashioned heirloom plant” by Michael Dirr in his book, Dirr’s Hardy Trees and Shrubs (Timber Press Inc., 1997), this one is a must have for those of us who have a passion for plants with fragrant flowers. Perhaps a slight exaggeration, it was indeed a love at first sight for me the moment I laid my eyes on a blooming Calycanthus which led to a desperate hunt of finding a specimen to grow in our garden.
While equally enchanting, the flowers that look like small water lilies are either deep maroon or greenish-yellow in color depending upon the variety grown; I opted for the variety ‘Athens’ because of its delightfully scented green flowers, but irrespective of the color preferred, it is important to procure plants when in full bloom to make sure the flowers are unmistakably fragrant as the scent at times is unpredictable.
Although the flowers are the main asset, the shrub overall is a nice addition to any landscape especially if grown as a specimen plant at a location where it can be easily seen, since the leaves turn a pretty yellow in fall; interestingly, quite frequently the fragrance is sensed a fair distance away from the site where the plant is growing making one wonder about the source of this most delicate perfume.
Sweetshrubs like to be planted where there is some protection from the hot afternoon sun and the soil is fertile, moist but well-drained. Established plants produce suckers freely, making them perfect pass-along plants among friends; in fact, I feel very fortunate to have been given a healthy slip of the maroon variety from the shrub growing profusely in the garden of a very dear friend of mine.
Needless to say, the plant I have received out of love and generosity of my fellow gardener has settled comfortably in our garden and so has the ‘Athens’; and at present, both of them are covered with flowers at various stages of development, the open ones catching us off-guard every so often with their unforgettable sweet fragrance.