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Sweet Shrub -- Calycanthus floridus
This uncommonly beautiful shrub with its unusual flowers goes by several names, including Sweet Betsy, Sweet Bubby for its intoxicatingly fragrant flowers. It’s also called Carolina allspice for the taste of its wood.
Sweet shrub is native to the upper regions of South Carolina, but can thrive as far north as hardiness zone 4 and as far south as hardiness zone 9. The shrub grows into a round bush that can be 6 to 10 feet high and perhaps a bit larger around. Though sweet shrub does well in both sun and shade, it tends to grow taller if it’s planted in the shade. A well cared for shrub grows one to two feet a year.
Sweet shrub has opposite leaves that are about 6 inches long and half as wide. The tops of the leaves are a deep, glossy green while the undersides are pale and fuzzy. The shrub is grown as much for its foliage as its spectacular flowers. The leaves give off a lovely aroma when they’re crushed and turn golden in the fall. Its fragrance and its habit encourage people to plant sweet shrub around patios, beside doors and other places where the family and their guests congregate. The shrub also joins groups of native plants in the garden and is found in borders.
The flowers resemble those of the magnolia, but they are brown or brownish red, though there are cultivars with greenish-white flowers. Their aroma is wildly fruity, and they blossom at the ends of the shrub’s branches from spring to mid summer. Ideally, the shrub should be pruned immediately after the flowers are gone to help it keep its shape. If the flowers are allowed to persist on the tree, they’re followed by seed capsules that cling to the tree throughout the winter.
Sweet shrub’s flowers not only have an unusual color but they last an unusually long time and are favorites for flower arrangements. They retain their fragrance when they’re dried, and are added to potpourri.