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Carolina Allspice, An Old-Fashioned Fragrant Favorite

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Carolina Allspice, An Old-Fashioned Fragrant Favorite

The blooms of Carolina allspice resemble magnolias.

Photo © Edward Russell

If desserty was a word, the Carolina allspice would be in the dictionary definition. The flowers of the Carolina allspice are demure, but its fragrance isn’t. Even the foliage and bark of this hardy shrub exude the alluring aroma.

The Carolina allspice is a southeastern native shrub that provides fabulous fragrance and structure to the flower garden, while asking little in return. You can expect three seasons of interest, including spring through summer blooms and brilliant golden fall foliage, from the Carolina allspice shrub.

Latin Name:

Family Calycanthaceae, Genus Calycanthus floridus

Common Names:

Bubby bush, Carolina allspice, Hairy Allspice, Sweetshrub, Strawberry bush

Zone:

4 to 9

Size:

Averages 8 feet tall, but grows up to 10 feet tall, spreading up to 12 feet.

Exposure:

Full to partial sun

Bloom Period:

Spring and early summer

Description:

At first glance, the flowers of the Carolina allspice resemble magnolia flowers. That’s no coincidence, as the sweetshrub belongs to the same plant class as magnolias. Other fragrant members of the magnoliid class include nutmeg and cinnamon.

The Carolina allspice shrub is deciduous, and features elliptical dark green leaves. The blooms are reddish-brown to purplish brown, except in the ‘Athens’ variety. The blooms are distinctively fragrant, and fragrance can vary from one plant to another. Some gardeners describe the fragrance as spicy, some liken the aroma to chocolate, and others are reminded of a fruity smell.

Planting:

Plant the Carolina allspice in the spring or fall in well-drained soil. The shrub will grow in clay soils, but avoid boggy locations. Provide the shrub with an inch of water per week until it is established.

Maintenance:

If you don’t wish this plant to naturalize, you should remove suckers in the spring. Although not invasive, the shrub will gradually spread to form a large colony when left untended.

The Carolina allspice tends to have a pleasing, rounded shape as its natural growth habit, but pruning the shrub after flowering can keep it even more tidy and within bounds. Fertilizing with an all-purpose flower fertilizer in the spring is OK, but not necessary each year. Water the shrub deeply in times of drought.

Design Tips:

  • Plant this large shrub in the back of the border, but not so far away that you can’t enjoy the fragrant flowers.
  • Carolina allspice is a nice alternative to evergreen shrubs as a foundation planting.
  • Include Carolina allspice in native wildflower gardens.
  • Plant this fragrant shrub beside your pool or patio.
  • Place the Carolina allspice shrub in areas where deer are problematic, as it is a deer-resistant plant.
  • Although this shrub is too large to plant solely as a cutting garden specimen, if you include it in your landscape you should consider taking a few branches for your floral arrangements. The color, texture, and fragrance of the flowers are desirable additions to your vase.

Varieties:

The lesser known ‘Athens’ cultivar sports pale yellow blooms in the spring.
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