Also called Carolina allspice, sweetshrub (Calycanthus floridus) may also be called the strawberry shrub because of the fragrance of its red, late-springtime flowers. Beautiful in a woodland garden or incorporated into a mixed shrub border, sweet shrub is best grown in USDA hardiness zones 5 through 9. It is slow-growing and may develop sprouting stems called suckers from the roots or trunk bases.
Growing slowly to 6 to 10 feet tall and 6 to 12 feet wide, sweetshrub is a deciduous shrub that develops into a rounded plant with somewhat open, upright and spreading branches. It has satiny, glossed, medium-to-dark green leaves that are tapered ovals, becoming yellow in autumn before falling. The leaves occur in pairs opposite each other on the twigs. In late spring or earliest summer, as the leaves mature, multipetaled flowers that look like fat spiders open all along the branches. They are deep reddish-brown in color and smell like a mixed combination of melon, banana, strawberry and pineapple. Some plants' flowers may smell more like stinky vinegar.
Found growing on the dry, well-draining slopes in the forest, it grows under the dappled shape of tall trees as well as in bright clearings where old trees have fallen. The native range extends from southern Virgina south to Florida and westward to Mississippi in the southeastern United States.
Plant sweetshrub in any moist but well-draining soil in the garden. The light exposure can range from partial shade (two to five hours of direct sun daily) upward to full sun (more than eight hours of sun daily). Growth is better when the soil is rich in organic matter. In regions with hot summers, plant the sweet shrub where it receives partial shade, not full sun. If you must prune, do it in early spring before the leaf buds swell and open.
Many attractive cultivated varieties (cultivars) of sweetshrub exist for gardeners to choose and grow. While the wild species tends to produce dark red flowers, selection "Athens"--also known as "Katherine"--develops very dark green leaves and greenish-yellow blossoms. Variety "Edith Wilder" is considered to consistently produce deep-red flowers with deliciously sweet fragrance and "Michael Lindsey" grows more compactly with maroonish blossoms. Purplish green leaves occur on "Purpureus."
Other species of sweetshrub that gardeners in North America may encounter in plant nurseries or botanical gardens include the western sweet shrub (Calycanthus occidentalis), also called the California allspice. From eastern China's mountains is the Chinese sweet shrub (Calycanthus chinensis), with larger-petaled, white blossoms. Some taxonomists list the Chinese sweetshrub with the botanical name Sinocalycanthus chinensis. A hybrid between the the Chinese sweetshrub and Carolina allspice developed in North Carolina is known as variety "Venus" (white flowers) or "Hartlage Wine" (red flowers).