Sweetshrub

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It's hard to be in a bad mood when there are sweetshrubs (Calycanthus floridus) in bloom. This wonderful native shrub is both easy on the eyes and the nose. In some parts of its range, it is affectionately referred to as Carolina allspice. It has been placed in the family Calycanthaceae, which it shares with other genera such as Idiospermum of Australia and Chimonanthus of Asia. Genetic analysis of this group suggests that this group began diverging before the supercontinent of Pangaea broke up some 180 million years ago.

Sweetshrub is predominantly native to southeastern North America, though it can be found growing as far north as New York and Massachusetts. It is quite an adaptable species when it comes to habitat but it seems to do best on rich loam in partially shaded conditions. Sweetshrub suckers readily and a small patch can quickly spread to cover a much larger area.

By far my favorite aspect of this shrub are its flowers. They don't produce any sepals or petals but instead put forth spirals of leathery tepals that open gradually as the flowers mature. Flower color is most often a deep shade of burgundy, however, orange and green flowers have been recorded as well. I usually smell them before I see them. To me, the flowers smell like sweet fermenting apples. Their main pollinators are sap beetles and it is not uncommon to find them crawling all over the blooms. I also frequently see fruit flies going about their business on these shrubs, undoubtedly attracted by the scent as well.

It's not just the flowers that smell either. The whole plant is rather aromatic. Scrape the bark and you may smell something akin to camphor. Crushed leaves smell sweet and spicy. However, the strength of these odors can vary greatly from plant to plant and may have a lot to do with its growing conditions. All in all this is one incredible species. Its adaptability, lack of pests, and pleasing appearance/fragrance have made this a popular shrub for native landscaping in the southeast.

Further Reading:

http://1.usa.gov/24tmbgu

http://1.usa.gov/2137HDi