If you’re looking for a native North American shrub with multi-season interest, the Carolina allspice might just be what you’re looking for. This deciduous plant is very cold-hardy, right down to zone 4, has wonderfully fragrant flowers, and great fall colors.
Read on to learn more about how to grow and care for this popular native shrub.
What Is A Carolina Allspice Shrub?
Carolina allspice is a plant that goes by many names. This native shrub is also known as a sweet shrub, common sweetshrub, sweet Betsy, bubby bush, strawberry bush, and sweet bubby bush.
This rounded to upright deciduous shrub of the Calycanthaceae family grows to a maximum of about 12 feet (3.7 m) tall and wide, although 6 feet (1.8 m) is a more common size.
Plants are multi-stemmed and woody, with a dense growth form. In nature, this plant can be found growing in mixed deciduous forests and woodlands, often along watercourses in the southeastern states of the USA.
This plant has vibrant green, leathery foliage that has a spice-like aroma when crushed between the fingers. Individual leaves are rounded, ending in a pointed apex with smooth margins, and are arranged oppositely along the branchlets.
The leaves of this bush measure up to around 6 inches (15 cm) in length and are paler above than below. In the fall, the foliage turns bright golden yellow before turning brown and falling.
The bark is brown and speckled with small light-colored spots known as lenticels which assist the plant in exchanging air with the atmosphere.
‘Michael Lindsey’ is a cultivar that is said to produce especially fragrant flowers. The flowers are a deep chocolate brown color in this cultivar, and the plants have a denser, more rounded form. (1)
‘Athens’ is a fragrant form that differs from other cultivars in its yellow flower coloration. (1)
Most forms of this plant have maroon-colored flowers that measure 1 to 2 inches (2.5 to 5 cm) across and consist of elongated strap-like sepals and petals.
These flowers occur in pairs on opposite sides of the branches, each blossom nestled between 2 pairs of oppositely arranged leaves.
As the new leaves of spring emerge, the Carolina allspice produces its first blooms. The plant will flower again from time to time once the shrub is fully covered in foliage.
The fragrant blossoms have a delightful smell, reminiscent of strawberries, apples, pineapple, and bananas. This fragrance is most obvious on the first day that a flower opens, especially during the morning hours.
Once fertilized, the flowers of this plant develop into green, hanging seed capsules of 3 to 4 inches (7.5 to 10 cm) long.
These seedpods mature from green through yellow to brown and remain on the plant through the winter months. Many large glossy seeds are contained in these capsules.
How To Grow A Carolina Allspice Shrub
The Carolina allspice can be grown from seed sown in the fall, or from greenwood or semi-ripe cuttings. Be sure to take cuttings from an especially fragrant specimen if possible to be sure that your plant will have the same qualities.
These plants have a medium growth rate and will increase in height by about a foot (0.3 m) each year in good conditions.
Well-drained soils that hold a good deal of organic matter are preferred by the eastern sweetshrub, but they are quite forgiving in this regard and do well in a variety of soil types and pH. Water this plant regularly, particularly if grown in a fast-draining medium that does not hold moisture well.
These plants are not particularly tolerant of drought conditions.
Sweet Betsy plants are notable for their wide tolerance for light conditions. They can be grown in full sun, all the way down to full shade.
Plants grown in full sun will naturally be more compact, denser specimens than those grown in shade, but try to provide plants with some afternoon shade in hot environments.
Carolina allspice is a very hardy plant that adapts well to a great range of temperatures. These plants do well from USDA hardiness zone 9 right down to zone 4.
Care and Maintenance
These low-maintenance plants are best pruned immediately after flowering since they flower on the previous year’s growth. They spread by suckering, and you may wish to remove these suckers to maintain a single neat and tidy shrub.
These plants are not heavy feeders but will benefit from a slow-release fertilizer applied in the spring in areas without much organic material in the soil.
Carolina allspice tends to be pretty pest and disease-free, but plants have been affected by root rot in wet, heavy soils. (2)
These plants make for lovely border or foundation plants if pruned for neatness, but are probably best for naturalized woodland gardens or planting around the perimeter of yards.
They are an excellent choice for perfume gardens. Be sure to plant this shrub near walkways and patios where its aroma can be best enjoyed.
The dried bark of this plant has reportedly been used as a cinnamon-like spice, although the plant is known to be mildly toxic, so caution is advised. Various traditional medicinal uses are reported, as well as uses in perfumes and flower arrangements.
This bush provides nesting sites and shelter for birds and other small animals. The flowers attract small beetles, which are responsible for pollination.
The only real downside to spice bush is its bare state during the winter months. For the rest of the year, this shrub provides great interest as a medium-sized shrub for gardens in zones 4 to 9. Grow this plant in its natural state and appreciate its natural fragrance and beauty.
Check our list of popular shrubs to grow if you’re interested in similar plants.
*image by nahhan/depositphotos