Beautiful Native: Carolina Allspice

Carolina Allspice (Calycanthus floridus) is an perfect example of everything there is to love about growing North American native plants in our beautiful wildlife garden: A beneficial cover and food source for wildlife, seasonal interest, unique flowers and fruits, delightfully fragrant leaves and twigs, and easily adaptable to a range of light, soil and water conditions!

Though Carolina Allspice is native along the eastern United States from Florida to New York and as far west as Mississippi, it grows particularly well in the southeastern coastal regions, hence the ‘Carolina’ moniker. (Calycanthus floridus is also known by a bevy of other common names including sweet shrub, strawberry shrub, bubby bush, sweet Betsey and spicebush.) It’s hardy in zones 4-9 and grows contentedly in full sun to full shade, being less robust in shady areas. Fuss-free, Carolina Allspice prefers damp feet but adapts easily to dry soils and is drought tolerant once established.

Carolina Allspice spreads by suckers to form a rounded multi-stemmed shrub 3′-9′ tall and 6′-12′ wide at maturity with large green leaves that turn yellow in fall. (It is a bit slower growing in well-drained soils.) Each spring it is adorned with sweetly scented, deep maroon flowers resembling miniature magnolia blossoms. The sweet fragrance attracts a host of insects which are eagerly snatched up by a variety of hungry birds hiding among the branches. The fruits (only occasionally seen on our shrub) are drooping, brown, wrinkled and full of seeds.

The twigs and bark of Carolina Allspice are also fragrant, releasing a scent of camphor when broken. Though pruning isn’t necessary, the shrub may be cut back after flowering to maintain a desired height and shape. Collect the pruned twigs to dry completely in a shaded area and they’ll remain scented… a wonderful bonus for using in wildflower arranging and potpourri!

Carolina Allspice , another amazing native shrub in our beautiful wildlife garden!

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Comments

  1. says

    Lovely article– I adore Calycanthus and have it in my own garden. The only caveat I’ve found is that scent can be somewhat hit-or-miss; I have found a range of scents from knock-your-socks-off banana and strawberry fragrance to complete duds– almost like Elmer’s glue sometimes. The best chance to get a winner fragrance-wise is to be at the nursery at bloom time. :o)

    Thanks!
    dave bockman recently posted..Color Rendering

    • Lisa Gustavson says

      Thank you, Dave. You’re right, there’s nothing better than seeking out a shrub in bloom to be sure you’re getting a fragrant one. I was lucky to have a division from an elderly friend and native plant lover! :-)

  2. says

    I love this shrub, it has so many great features not the least of all being that it’s native. We don’t grow them here but I would really like to. Those flowers are very different looking compared to most flowering shrubs. And bark with a smell is always a favorite for me. Very nice plant profile Lisa!
    Kathy Green recently posted..How NOT to Attract Wildlife to your Garden

  3. says

    Yay! I just planted two of these flanking the front steps–took out the out-of-control boxwoods and replaced them with inkberry holly and a pair of these. For the smell, I can deal with the need to prune regularly…
    UrsulaV recently posted..Rags and Tatters

    • Lisa Gustavson says

      Please let us know how they do! Pruning is easy enough and the rewards of flowers and fragrance are well worth it! Enjoy! :-)

    • Lisa Gustavson says

      Well now…off to the nursery with you ASAP, LOL! I’m very thankful for the elderly friend who shared his with me, as I haven’t seen them in our local nurseries lately. A shame, they’re wonderful natives!

  4. andy says

    in terms of smell – would it be worth it to germinate a pod’s worth of seeds, see which seedling’s flowers smell best, plant those out and give away the rest? that’s what i’m trying to do now.

  5. Jnae Brown says

    I have 3 areas of these in my yard. This was my parents home and they did nothing to them since 1941. I found that, unpruned, they grow into tall, long, sticks with a few leaves at the top — a perfect whip! Also the oldest ones got more “tree like” trunks. I love it but it desperately needed some control work. Last year I cut them all the way down in the late fall and they came back in the spring! Now, I’m going to try pruning, in the fall, in an effort to “force” more little branches. Will this work? Hope I’m not causing them distress. Also, my daughter would like to get some in her yard, but so far, no success. How much “root” must she get? Does it need to be from the “mother” root or can it be some of the sprouts that move out of the movther? Will a piece of it root in a glass of water? what’s the best way to do it?
    Thanks to anyone who can help.

  6. says

    I have very good luck growing these from seed – if you can find the wrinkled brown pods on the shrub; one of the easiest plants I know by seed.

    As for digging them up, they do sucker and the best way to move a sucker is to take a shovel and separate the plants while they are still in the ground (plunge the shovel down between the two plants). Give it a few months to recover in place (don’t dig it up). Then come spring, dig up the baby and move it. I don’t think it will root in water. You can also get some rooting hormone from the hardware store and dab it on any roots that get cut in the transplant process. My best success with wild transplanted shrubs is to put them in a pot with top soil (doesn’t have to be expensive and if you can get a bit of the native soil, do that as well as it has beneficial organisms for the plant).

    Hope that helps. I would not prune them much more now that you’ve done that drastic pruning. Give them a few years to settle back in before you prune them again.
    Ellen Honeycutt recently posted..Wild Roadside vs. Average Garden

  7. Ann Sutton says

    Thanks for the long-lost naming of this rangy shrub that has quickly repopulated an area where I regretfully had to cut down a butternut because it was killing everything underneath it. Now I can prune and manage the strawberry shrub (s) and hopefully nurse the Japanese maples back to health. Interesting that I’m growing it up here in Toronto. You seem to be Southerners. I still feel guilty about the native butternut.

  8. says

    Is carolina allspice poisonous to dogs? I need to plant something in front of their kennel to keep them from barking at everything they see but two of them are chessers of whatever they can get hold of.

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