Sweet Shrub

Claire PickettJuly 12, 2005

My native NC neighbor gave me seedlings of a bush she calls "Sweet Shrub." It's very aromatic and makes very large seed pods. What is the botanical name for this plant?

Thanks, claire in sanford

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Calycanthus floridus aka Carolina Allspice.


    Bookmark   July 12, 2005 at 8:30PM
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rivers1202(Z8a South Carolina)

They make alot of babies in the right growing conditions. Be prepared to give away some sweet shrubs in the near future.

    Bookmark   July 14, 2005 at 12:16AM
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TerriBuck(7b NC)

Sweet Shrub/Carolina Allspice is also called Sweet Betsy (my preference). It was the first native plant I was introduced to when I came to NC and I still love it. The 'fruit' is so visually subtle and yet so aromatic. I have two types, both passalongs, so I don't know anything about them except that their leaves are different and one is thriving in morning sun and the other is wilting in a similarly sunny position but thriving in near total shade. The morning sun plant is full and leafy and appears to spread by dropping branches which then root. The shade plant seems to spread underground. And yet the fruit on both are the same.

Claire, I hope you enjoy yours as much as I do.

    Bookmark   July 16, 2005 at 12:03PM
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Claire Pickett

Thanks for the info, folks. My neighbor's bush is growing in more than part shade and doing very well. The babies, among which I adopted my two, were growing in virtually deep shade beneath.

I wonder if it has anything to do with the culinary "Allspice," which I assume is exotic.

My computer crashed Thurs. and we are awaiting Dell's delivery of the replacement. My husband's laptop is better than nothing.

peace, claire in sanford

    Bookmark   July 16, 2005 at 1:38PM
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The edible spice called "Allspice" is not from your Calycanthus. The spice is from a 30-50 foot tall tree with white flowers - Pimenta dioica (a.k.a. Jamaica Pepper, Clove Pepper, or Pimento). It grows in Jamaica, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico and would not survive the cold here.

There are two kinds of Calycanthus - C. floridus (a.k.a. Carolina Allspice, Sweet Shrub, or Sweet Betsy) and C. occidentalis (a.k.a. California Allspice, or Western Sweet Shrub). Both are shrubs and the "berries" are toxic if eaten in large quantities and have red to reddish-brown flowers.

I think the leaves, bark, and roots smell like a mixture of sweet fruity spices and the flowers like ripe strawberries.

Sweet Betsy is native here in NC and once started will form colonies, grow up to 8 feet tall but still look like a shrub. I think the fragrance is heavenly and laugh when people go around sniffing gaudy flowers elsewhere in the garden thinking that they are the ones producing the wonderful aroma. The plant itself is very unassuming.

BTW - In Jamaica they make "Pimento Dram" liquor which is made from rum and Allspice berries, not what we think of as pimento that we find in olives. See how important it is to learn the botanical names of plants? Whew!

    Bookmark   July 16, 2005 at 6:34PM
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Ornamental flowering spring shrub, best known for its sweet light, fruity fragrance that can fill a yard. (Calycanthus floridus) Sweet Shrub is native to the Appalachian stream banks of the Smokies, where it is also known as Carolina Allspice, Strawberry Bush, Sweet Shade, and Bubby Blossom. Women used to place the flowers in their bodices as a perfume, hence the name "Bubby Blossom". Sweet shrub was once commonly found as an ornamental around colonial homes, especially south of the Mason-Dixon line. Several large bushes can fill a small yard with the combined fragrance of strawberry, cantaloupe, spiced apple, and burgundy wine. Sweet shrub has a distinctive maroon-red flower about 2" across. It is pollinated by small beetles that were the first pollinators of flowering plants and were instrumental in the evolution of flowering plants, long before bees and flies appeared on the scene. When the flower first opens it has the fragrance of spiced apples as it opens over a period of 7 to 10 days. Flowers first appear in mid-March with a flush of flowers in April, and a trailing out through May. Even the leaves are fragrant when rubbed, and in the fall they turn a sunny yellow. In colonial times the cinnamon-flavored bark was used as a seasoning. Sweet shrubs are ideal for planting close to the house near a window where the fragrance may drift indoors. Plant additional plants by a favor-ite path or sitting area. Will flower splendidly in full sun, but is best adapted to light shade. Flowers in 2 to 3 years from seed. Medicinal: Useful for damp spleen. An excellent herb for moving stagnant chi. The leaves, twigs, and buds have diaphoretic properties. An emmenagogue, and possibly has some anti-viral activity plant in fall about 2 inches in ground

anyway with the history lesson over these thngs are all over the place here n ga i have hundreds of seeds and tons of the plants gotta love greenhouses they can ge grown form cuttings if you guys are haveing a hard tme finding any just shoot me a email amosmc81@yahoo.com with a self addressed stamped envalope id be more than happy to send anyone a few seeds to get them started or to trade or whtever :)

    Bookmark   March 4, 2007 at 1:36AM
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dottie_in_charlotte(z7-8 NC)

"damp spleen" ????????????????

    Bookmark   March 4, 2007 at 3:40PM
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Just curious, anyone growing the newer cultivar "Venus" and if so, what do you think of it?

    Bookmark   March 4, 2007 at 5:01PM
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karen__w(z7 Durham, NC)

I've got 'Venus', planted it in the fall of '05 and it bloomed the following spring even though it was still a very small plant. I recommend it.

    Bookmark   March 4, 2007 at 7:54PM
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A note of good note: 'Venus' is not a cultivar, but a hybrid between several Calycanthus species; Calycanthus chinensis x C floridanus 'Athens' x (C chinensis x c occidentalis) A wonderful effort by NC State's own Tom Ranney.

It's gorgeous, with larger flowers than the native species, and the same wonderful scent. This will be a great garden plant, and comes from here in NC. We should be proud of NC State for this one! Below, a link for Ranney's elaboration on it.

Here is a link that might be useful: Sweetshrub breeding

    Bookmark   March 4, 2007 at 10:38PM
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What is the growth rate for the seedlings. Will they grow the first season after transplanted?

    Bookmark   March 5, 2007 at 8:23AM
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My Grandparents had Sweet Shrub all around their house when I was growing up in East Texas. They said their Grandparents brought it with them when they migrated from Georgia. The old home place has been left to grow up and has smothered out all the Sweet Shrub. I know it's not native to Texas but it did vary well there. I live in Austin now and believe they would do well here as well. I have been unable to find any in this area and thought I would see if anyone would be interested in mailing me some seeds. I believe that is probably the best smelling flower I have ever smelled. It's just above Cape Jasmine. Please e-mail me if sending seeds may be a possibility. Thank You.

    Bookmark   July 26, 2008 at 3:16PM
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Tammy Kennedy

if you send a sase i'd be happy to send you some seeds- email me from my page here. Only thing is, please know that there are no guarantees when you start with seeds that they'll be fragrant. My bush is pretty fragrant- seems to depend on the humidity, etc.

    Bookmark   July 26, 2008 at 5:04PM
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Oh both of my Grandmothers had these in their yards. I grew up calling them Sweet Bubby. My Grandmother who lived next door had Sweet Bubby, and the fragrance was heavenly!! She used to make Sachets to put in her clothing drawers from the buds by placing them in a soft linen handkerchief and tying them then laying them in the clothes in the drawer. She used to tell me, "rub those together to release the fragrance" before she would let me tie the ends. She also had a beautiful Wisteria vine, and if you have never had a warm spring night, sleeping with the fan on and a huge Wisteria vine right outside your bedroom window, then don't know what heaven is! She had some of the most interesting plants, and some I still search for today. This is a very fond childhood memory for me! :-)

    Bookmark   July 26, 2008 at 9:24PM
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I also have 'Venus', planted this spring in part shade. It bloomed soon after I planted it. The blooms look like miniature magnolia blossoms. Wonderful plant.

    Bookmark   July 27, 2008 at 10:01AM
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Dibbit(z7b SC)

Just be aware that the straight species can vary a great deal in how scented the flowers are, from very much so to almost none at all. If growing from seed, try to keep as many as you can until they flower, so you can rogue out the unscented ones. If you get a cutting from a scented bush, then you can practically guarantee it will be scented, and the named hybrids/cultivars, to my knowledge, are all selected for scent.

    Bookmark   July 27, 2008 at 2:04PM
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My Sweet Betsy is the yellow form "Athens" and has not a bit of scent. I am very dissapointed because I placed it where the fragrance would be noticeable sitting in the garden chair. It is not a particularly attractive plant without flowers and without fragrance it is bound to be moved off someplace else. I have a native Sweet Betsy that has no scent either. >

Nancy the nancedar

    Bookmark   July 27, 2008 at 8:39PM
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Tammy Kennedy

Nan- remind me before a swap and i'll dig a section of my bubby out- it's getting out of bounds anyhoo.

    Bookmark   July 28, 2008 at 8:06PM
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When I lived in NC I had these growing wild behind my house. When I learned I was going to be moving I knew I wanted to take some along with me. When they were in bloom I dug out two of them, from opposite sides of the woods. One I dug for flower abundance, and the other for scent. I brought them both with me to Yemassee, SC and they are doing very well with full morning sun. I planted them together so I could see, as well as smell, a display.

    Bookmark   July 29, 2008 at 4:19PM
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I live in north Texas now, but before 2002, I lived in Salem Oregon. Our yard had a huge hill with many interesting plants absolutely covering it. I also had six dachshunds. The first spring we were there, I was drawn to the vibrating bush about 6 feet tall near the top of the hill. So I crawled up there to see what it was all about. The dachshunds were yanking leaves off the bottom of the bush causing it to "vibrate". The plant had distinctive burgundy leaves with a little gold on the edges. Very primitive looking flower if you ask me. This variety had no odor at all. I wonder what drew the dogs to the plant initially. I guess the leaves are sweet. I looked it up on the Internet and discovered it was the Calycanthus Occidentalis because my main concern was whether or not it was poisonous to the dogs. Fortunately they were just munching on the leaves but the seeds are poisonous though; They contain Calycanthin and other alkaloids. According to a toxic plant list; animals given the alkaloids indicate that the animals suffered strychnine-like convulsions, myocardial depression, and hypotension. Had the lower leaves produced any flowers I would have pulled the plant from the yard. I would worry about tall dogs eating the wrong part.

    Bookmark   December 29, 2008 at 8:43PM
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I love this plant so much. Used to wake up with the smell of cotton candy wafting through my room when I was younger because it was planted outside my bedroom window. My mom has given me numerous cuttings, dug up plants with large root systems, etc. but Never can keep it living. Any suggestions? I live in western North Carolina mountains and have tried planting it in shade, sun and all in between.

    Bookmark   July 2, 2013 at 1:13PM
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dottie_in_charlotte(z7-8 NC)

Sandy, do you have any native rhododendrons on your lot?
Sweetshrub would probably like the same positioning/soil type as rhododendrons. I'm in the Charlotte area and they grow in part shade (understory) and also in the dense shade of oak and maple. This year, even the 1' tall babies made flowers and it might be because of the odd weather and additional rain.
You might also check on soil pH preferences for sweetshrub and give the soil a bit of granulated lime.

    Bookmark   July 9, 2013 at 7:35PM
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Dottie...thank you. Amazingly enough, my rhododendrons just don't make it either! I'll check into the soil type info!

    Bookmark   July 16, 2013 at 8:22AM
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