Description & Overview

Common Sweetshrub is a showcase shrub with fragrant, deep-red, magnolia-like blossoms that cover the plant in June, set against lustrous, dark green leaves. The leaves are aromatic when bruised, relatively large, and have a rough texture. Each plant has a unique intensity and quality to its fragrance, yet all smell somewhat fruity. The fragrance seems to increase as the plant matures. In fall, leaves turn a pretty golden yellow, lighting up the garden.

Common Sweetshrub may also be known as Carolina Allspice, Strawberry Bush, Sweet Bubby, and Spicebush.

Core Characteristics

Category: Shrub

Wisconsin Native: No - Native to North America

USDA Hardiness Zone: to zone 4

Mature Height: 6-10 feet

Mature Spread: 6-12 feet

Growth Rate: Moderate

Growth Form: Rounded, broad, spreading

Light Requirements: Full Sun to Partial Shade

Site Requirements: Average - moist, well - drained

Flower: Deep red, tepals, fragrant, Magnolia - like, 1 - 2"

Bloom Period: June – July, Late spring to Mid-summer

Foliage: Dark green, 3 - 6", hairy, rough, aromatic

Fall Color: yellow

Urban Approved: Yes

Fruit Notes: Brown capsule containing numerous seeds, capsule 2 - 3" long, urn - shaped, persistent

Suggested Uses

Native to the southeastern United States from New York and Missouri, south through the Appalachian Mountains, and Mississippi Valley, to Louisiana and Florida, Common Sweetshrub grows up to 10′ tall and a bit wider with a slightly suckering habit. Johnson’s Nursery selects plants from the northern part of this range so that hardiness is improved over more southerly selections.

Take advantage of the fragrance and plant near entrances, walkways, or patios. The fragrance is a combination of pineapple, apple, strawberry, and banana.

With a preference for part shade and moist soil, Common Sweetshrub is an excellent option as an understory planting. Its tendency to sucker and spread over time makes Common Sweetshrub a nice replacement for Buckthorn once it has been removed.

Large foliage creates a nice deciduous screen. Adaptability to different soil types, light conditions, and soil moisture levels makes this a nice mass planting.

Sweetshrub produces beautiful flowers that are lovely in a floral arrangement. Dried stems, bark, and leaves can be made into potpourri.

Common Sweetshrub is a showcase shrub with fragrant, deep-red, magnolia-like blossoms that cover the plant in June, set against lustrous, dark green l…

Wildlife Value

Sap beetles (Nitidulidae), and Rove beetles (Staphylinidae) are the main pollinators of Common Sweetshrub. The floral scent of fermenting fruit is likely what attracts these particular beetles.

Flies are attracted to the nectar but have not been reported to pollinate the flowers.

Maintenance Tips

While this plant does sucker, it is slow to do so. Cut back suckers at the base to avoid spread if that is not desired.

Prune immediately after flowering to maintain shape. Pruning too late in the season will risk cutting off next year’s flower buds as they are produced on the previous year’s wood.

Plants struggle in drought conditions: maintain a mulch layer and supplemental water during these times.

Common Sweetshrub is a showcase shrub with fragrant, deep-red, magnolia-like blossoms that cover the plant in June, set against lustrous, dark green l…

Pests/Problems

Black Walnut Tolerant: Yes
Deer Resistant: Yes
Rabbit Resistant: Yes

Rough-textured, fragrant leaves are not appealing to most mammalian herbivores. It has been reported to be toxic to sheep and cattle.

Root rot can occur in poorly drained soils-make sure they are sited properly, in a well-draining location.

Leaf Lore

The genus Calycanthus is Greek for the words kalyx meaning “calyx” and anthos which means “flower.” The specific epithet floridus means “of Florida” where it grows.

Indigenous peoples used the roots of Common Sweetshrub in the treatment of urinary and bladder problems. The seeds were used as eye drops for persons losing eyesight, and as an expectorant. The bark was used for sore throats, and on children’s sores and hives.

An oil distilled from the shrub is used in perfume, most notably, the spicy woman’s fragrance called Calycanthus by Acca Kappa.

Common Sweetshrub has been in gardens for centuries, including those beloved by Jefferson and Washington.

Companion Plants

Use the following plants to create a beautiful, wild, and diverse understory all your own: Rafinesque Viburnum, Large-flowered Bellflower, Thimbleberry, False Solomon’s Seal, Umbrella Magnolia, Bunchberry, Downy Serviceberry, Alderleaf Buckthorn, Bottlebrush Grass, Bladdernut, Canadian Yew, Virginia Creeper, Eastern Wahoo, Common Witchhazel, and Pagoda Dogwood.

Common Sweetshrub is a showcase shrub with fragrant, deep-red, magnolia-like blossoms that cover the plant in June, set against lustrous, dark green l…
beth delain1 avatar

Written by Beth DeLain