How to Grow Calycanthus – Carolina Allspice

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Calycanthus–commonly called Carolina allspice–is a large, bulky shrub with lush foliage and unusual, fruit-scented flowers. Calycanthus flowers are narrow and lance-shaped; they resemble tiny waterlilies.

Calycanthus is a deciduous shrub native to woodlands and streambanks. It is a good choice for a border, for a summer flowering hedge, or as specimens.

Calycanthus flowers on the current season’s wood so it can be cut back close to the ground in autumn. As a seasonal fragrant hedge, it grows 6 to 10 feet (2-3m) tall and 10 to 12 feet wide.

Deep red Carolina spicebush flower
Deep red Carolina spicebush flower

Get to know Calycanthus 

  • Plant type: Deciduous shrub 
  • Growing zones and range: Zones 5 to 9 
  • Hardiness: Hardy to Zone 5
  • Height and width: 6 to 10 feet (2-3m) tall and 10 to 12 feet wide.
  • Foliage: Opposite dark green leaves from 2 to 8 inches (5-20cm) long that are clove-scented when crushed.  
  • Flowers: Deep reddish blooms with elliptical petals that resemble small water lilies; they are usually fragrant.  
  • Bloom time: Summer 
  • Uses: Combine with other shrubs in a border.  
  • Garden companions: Blue and white cultivars of French hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla
  • Common name: Carolina allspice, sweetshrub 
  • Botanical name: Calycanthus 
  • Family name: Calycanthaceae
  • Origin: Woodlands and streambanks in the United States

Where to plant Calycanthus 

  • Plant Calycanthus in full sun in cool-summer regions and partial shade in hot summer regions.  
  • Plant Calycanthus in humus-rich, moist soil that is well-drained. 
Sweetshrub Venus flower
Sweetshrub Venus flower – Latin name – Calycanthus floridus x Venus

When to plant Calycanthus 

  • Plant Calycanthus seed as soon as it is ripe in the fall or sow seed in spring. 
  • Set container-grown plants in the garden in spring or autumn.

Planting and spacing Calycanthus 

  • Space Calycanthus 10 to 12 feet (3-3.6m) apart.

How to water and feed Calycanthus 

  • Keep the soil evenly moist for best growth.
  • Feed Calycanthus with an all-purpose organic fertilizer in spring.

How to care for Calycanthus 

  • Calycanthus flowers on the current season’s growth; prune Calycanthus to the ground in early spring.

Calycanthus pests and diseases 

  • Calycanthus can develop leaf spots, powdery mildew, or dieback. 
  • Calycanthus has few garden pests.  
Sweetshrub (Calycanthus floridus)
Sweetshrub (Calycanthus floridus)

Calycanthus propagation 

  • Sow seed as soon as ripe in autumn; grow seed on in a cold frame.
  • Take softwood cuttings of Calycanthus in early summer.
  • Layer Calycanthus in autumn or remove suckers in spring. 

Calycanthus varieties to grow 

  • Calycanthus chinensis, Chinese spicebush: Grows 6 to 9 feet (1.8-2.7) tall and bears huge gloss leaves; 3-inch white spring flowers are tinged with pink and have yellow centers but no fragrances.
  • C. floridus, common sweetshrub, Carolina allspice: native to the eastern United States; grows to 8 feet tall and 10 feet wide; dark green leaves to 5 inches long; 2-inch maroon flowers with straplike petals can smell like strawberries, bananas, or pineapples’ cultivar ‘Athens’ has very fragrant yellow flowers.  
  • C. occidentalis, California allspice: West Coast native similar to eastern but grows larger.

Written by Stephen Albert

Stephen Albert is a horticulturist, master gardener, and certified nurseryman who has taught at the University of California for more than 25 years. He holds graduate degrees from the University of California and the University of Iowa. His books include Vegetable Garden Grower’s Guide, Vegetable Garden Almanac & Planner, Tomato Grower’s Answer Book, and Kitchen Garden Grower’s Guide. His Vegetable Garden Grower’s Masterclass is available online. has more than 10 million visitors each year.

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