Bloom of Carolina allspice shrub.

Carolina allspice bloom. Photo: Miri Talabac, University of Maryland Extension

Updated: July 12, 2022

About Carolina allspice

Calycanthus floridus
Deciduous shrub
Sweetshrub family (Calycanthaceae)

Maryland Distribution: not native in the state, though there are isolated records of the species occurring in natural areas non-invasively; native to the southeastern U.S.; deciduous woodland habitat
Height: 4 to 10 feet tall
Flowers: deep maroon or burgundy (occasionally pale lime-green) with multiple petals, resembling a water lily or star magnolia; typically has a strong fruity or vinegar-like fragrance, but scent characteristics and strength can vary between plants; late April into May and June; insect-pollinated (primarily sap beetles, potentially fruit flies)
Fall color: yellow
Sun: part sun to shade
Soil: moist to dry; adaptable to both acidic and alkaline conditions

Garden Uses: Carolina allspice is a good addition to a wooded understory, shaded foundation bed, or fragrance or cut flower garden. This multi-stemmed deciduous shrub can sucker and may produce a small thicket-like colony when free of competition in an ideal location. Growth is not very dense, however, and plants are easily restrained via pruning if space is limited. (Occasional drastic cut-backs are well-tolerated, though may interrupt flowering for the next year or two.) In gardens, most plants are more restrained and have a rounded to mounding growth habit.

Blooms on both old and new growth – the current season’s wood and the prior season’s wood. Seed pods ripen in autumn to dry, brown, fig-shaped structures with loose seeds rattling inside.

Sweetshrub is another common name for this species, and both foliage and stems are aromatic when cut or bruised. Alternate common names strawberry bush and spicebush are shared with Euonymus americanus and Lindera benzoin, respectively.

Cultivar notes:

  • most mature around 6 to 8 feet high and wide
  • ‘Athens’ (also named ‘Katherine’) produces pastel lime-green blooms
  • ‘Burgundy Spice’ has plum-purple foliage; while this trait has been found to discourage leaf-feeding insects in other plants, Carolina allspice does not appear to naturally support many (or any) foliage-feeding insects
  • a few cultivars, such as ‘Aphrodite’, ‘Hartlage Wine’, and Venus™, are hybrids between this species and Asian and/or Western (US native) species

Wildlife: Blooms support insect pollinators. Mammals may eat the seeds.

Green Carolina allspice blooms.
Blooms of the green-flowered variety ‘Athens’. Photo: Miri Talabac
Autumn color and growth habit of Carolina allspice.
Growth habit and autumn foliage color. Photo: Miri Talabac
Dried seed pods of Carolina allspice.
Dried seed pods may persist into the following spring. Photo: Nancy Loewenstein, Auburn University, Bugwood.org

Compiled by: Miri Talabac, Horticulturist & Coordinator, Home & Garden Information Center. 2022

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