Calycanthus occidentalis
Common Name: Californian allspice 
Type: Deciduous shrub
Family: Calycanthaceae
Native Range: Southwestern United States
Zone: 6 to 9
Height: 6.00 to 12.00 feet
Spread: 6.00 to 12.00 feet
Bloom Time: June to August
Bloom Description: Dark red to purplish brown
Sun: Full sun to part shade
Water: Medium
Maintenance: Low
Suggested Use: Hedge, Naturalize
Flower: Showy, Fragrant
Fruit: Showy

Culture

Easily grown in average, medium moisture, well-drained soil in full sun to part shade. Tolerates close to full shade. Grows somewhat taller in shade than in sun. Tolerant of a wide range of soils, including sandy or clay, but prefers rich moist loams. Prune immediately after flowering to shape and to maintain compactness. Remove root suckers promptly if naturalization is not desired. If planted in the St. Louis area (northern part of USDA Zone 6), it should be given a root mulch, sheltered location and protection from cold winter winds.

Noteworthy Characteristics

Calycanthus occidentalis, commonly known as California sweetshrub or California spicebush, is a large, upright-rounded, thicket-forming, multi-stemmed, suckering, deciduous shrub which features fragrant (some suggest the aroma of a wine cellar), dark red to purplish-brown, thin-tepaled, waterlily-like flowers (2-3” wide) which bloom from late spring to early summer (sometimes extending to early fall). Each flower is short-lived (1-2 days). This shrub typically grows to 6-12’ (15’) tall and as wide. It is endemic to California (possibly a few sites in the State of Washington) where it is typically found in moist shady places, canyons, and along streams and woodland lakes primarily from the southern Cascades, California coastal ranges and foothills of the Sierra Nevada. Flowers give way to capsule-like fruits (to 2” long) which persist into winter. Opposite, large, leathery, ovate to elliptic, dark green leaves (to 3-8” long) turn yellow in fall. Leaves are also fragrant, being rough above and pubescent beneath. Blooms of C. occidentalis are considered to have less flower fragrance than the blooms of C. floridus.

Genus name comes from the Greek words kalyx meaning calyx and anthos meaning a flower.

Specific epithet means western in reference to this plant’s habitat in the western United States.

Plants in the genus Calycanthus are commonly called sweetshrub or strawberry bush in reference to the fragrant blooms which are often described as combining hints of pineapple, strawberry and banana.

Problems

No serious insect or disease problems.

Garden Uses

Woodland gardens. Specimens around homes and in foundations. Shrub borders. Native plant areas. Dappled shade. Hedge.