I have been admiring Carolina allspice (Calycanthus floridus) in other people’s gardens for a few years, taking photos whenever I can. This is such a beautiful plant I don’t know why other people don’t grow it more often. A native, deciduous shrub, Carolina allspice grows to 5 to 8 feet tall, is deer resistant, and has no major pests/diseases. The leaves are green and large for a small bush and the brown red flowers bloom all summer long. Pollinated by beetles, the 2-inch flowers look like a cross between a star magnolia (outer strap-shaped petals) and a lotus (curved inner petals with a central, raised button). In the fall, the leaves turn golden yellow.
Fortunately Spring Meadow Nursery read my mind and sent me the cultivar Aphrodite two years ago as part of their Proven Winners ColorChoice collection. Aphrodite’s flowers are redder than the species and are supposed to smell like apples. In my Virginia garden, my 3-foot tall youngster is thriving under the edge of a red maple’s canopy, so it receives partial sun. This past week, Aphrodite bloomed for the first time.
I cut the flower and put it in a vase. There was no scent but I have read that young plants do not always have a fragrance. Apparently this attribute comes with maturity. I did crush a leaf though and the camphor scent was nice, almost lemony. It reminded me of a friend who would put eucalyptus branches in her car so the heat would release a pleasant scent. The bark too was aromatic when I scratched it. Mark Catesby said the bark was as “odoriferous as cinnamon” although I think the scent is more like a cross between lemon and camphor. When my plant matures and I get more flowers I will use them for flower arrangements. In addition to the flowers, I could use the leaves and branches for potpourris. But I think I will pass on the car trick, it may create a strong odor, more like a disinfectant.
Regardless of its scent, Carolina allspice is a great shrub for the Washington DC metro area. Aphrodite certainly holds great promise in my garden.