Sunday, March 21, 2010
When was the last time you put your nose right down into a fresh cut strawberry or grapefruit? Remember that wonderful smell? How fresh and clean the scent? How about the wonderful smell of cloves at Christmastime? What would you think if I told you that you could have that wonderful fragrance wafting through your windows on a bright summer morning without having to go out and buy strawberries or grapefruit, or waiting for the Christmas holidays? Then plant a Calycanthus floridus, Calycanthus floridus 'Athens', or Calycanthus floridus 'Michael Lindsey' in your garden east of the Mississippi or Calycanthus occidentalis in your garden on the west coast and this wonderful shrub will fill your home and garden with these great smells from May through July. Calycanthus forms a mound that can reach 8 feet high and 8 feet wide if you allow it to sucker. The flowers of the species are a deep maroon color and have numerous petals and sepals that are beautiful against the bright green color of the leaves. I have several Calycanthus floridus plants in my gardens and they do best in full sun in a well-drained moist slightly acidic soil. This is the native environment of the sweetshrub and it will do well for you as long as you do not amend your soil or try to feed it with fertilizers. It's funny about the flowers, not all of the plants will have flowers with a strong scent so I recommend buying this shrub when it is in flower so you can do a 'smell test' to determine which one has the best scent; but remember - shrubs at your local nursery will be either in pots or balled and burlaped (B&B) and will probably smell better once you get them home and in the ground. The scent of the flowers will depend on several things including genetics, sunlight and soil makeup, so if you want a Calycanthus with the best scent it pays to do some detecting with your nose when purchasing this shrub and use some restraint when planting. Please don't add anything to the soil or use any of those fertilizer stakes or feed it with a liquid fertilizer! These plants are native to the United States and just want to grow for you without any 'help' from us humans. One funny (or not so funny) fact is that Calycanthus floridus is endangered in Florida! The state that it is named for - 'floridus'! Amazing!
The straight species has the flowers that smell like strawberries while Calycanthus floridus 'Athens' flowers smell like grapefruit and Calycanthus floridus 'Michael Lindsey' flowers smell like cloves. The 'Michael Lindsey' cultivar is new to the trade and might be difficult to find so some more detective work may be necessary to find this shrub. The 'Athens' cultivar has wonderful green/ yellow flowers and really does smell like fresh cut grapefruit, while the 'Michael Lindsey' cultivar has very dark maroon flowers that sit on very dark green leaves. Unfortunately, there are no cultivars of Calycanthus occidentalis available in the trade at this date, but the species is wonderful and has the same great scent and shape as Calycanthus floridus. Calycanthus leaves are also highly scented and have been used as an insect repellent; crush some leaves and you will smell a slight camphor odor. The bark on the other hand, smells like cinnamon when scraped. All in all, this is a wonderful plant for your native garden whether you live on the east or west coast.
Calycanthus is pollinated by insects and does not need another plant in order to set seed. In fact, if you leave the seed pods on the plant, you will find small seedlings at the base of the plant that you can dig up and move to a new location. If you want to grow your own plants from seed, they are easy to germinate in cold frames. Unfortunately, just because the parent has highly scented flowers, that does not mean that the offspring will have the same great scent. Calycanthus is a crazy shrub because it can't seem to decide what it wants to be - a strawberry plant, grapefruit tree or a clove tree! So,this spring go out and find a crazy calycanthus for your native garden and see what all the craziness is about!