With alternative regional names like Carolina allspice, Bubby blossom or strawberry bush, the sweet shrub (Calycanthus floridus) provides various seasonal interest for gardens. The floral aroma always smells of fruit--strawberry, melon, pineapple--and some like vinegar, so plants should be purchased when in bloom to verify scent. Also disease and pest-free, this deciduous shrub grows best in USDA Hardiness Zones 5 through 9.
Usually found on dry slopes in deciduous woodlands with acidic soils, the sweet shrub's native range extends from southern Ohio and Pennsylvania to Florida.
Variable in form, sweet shrub becomes a loosely branched shrub with a mature height of 6 to 10 feet and spread of 6 to 12 feet. Its brown twigs bear tapering oval leaves of deep green with lighter undersides that have a slight fuzziness. In late spring to midsummer, small dark red-brown flowers with many petals dot the plant, emitting a fragrance that resembles strawberry fruit. Although rarely forming, pollinated flowers develop into bell-shaped capsules that dry and ripen brown by mid-autumn and then persist into the winter. In autumn, the foliage blushes tones of yellow before dropping off.
Tolerant of a wide range of soils that are fertile and moist but well-draining, sweet shrub looks best when provided at least 4 to 8 hours of direct sunlight daily. It tolerates partial shade, but this causes branches to become leggy, and foliage and flowers are more sparse in comparison to healthy plants that get more sunlight. The shrub is tolerant of drought once established and does well when organic matter is added to the root zone. If stems become too leggy, it should be pruned immediately after the late spring flowering to allow for new growth to harden-off and develop dormant flower buds before the fall frost.
Because this woodland shrub never looks formal, it incorporates nicely into a mixed shrub border or as a woodland garden understory plant where openings between trees allow more light. The delicious flower perfume makes the shrub a nice foundation bed specimen near an entrance or patio.
While the wild form of sweet shrub provides many ornamental qualities, horticulturists selected plants with more reliable characteristics. These cultivated varieties, cultivars, include the yellow-flowering "Athens," also known as "Katherine." The tall-growing "Edith Wilder" gives a sweet flower scent; the "Michael Lindsey" has a slightly more compact mature size. Both form dark red blossoms.