Plant Collector: Calycanthus floridus

Calycanthus floridus in a New Plymouth garden

Calycanthus floridus in a New Plymouth garden

Commonly known as Carolina Allspice, this is the best example I have seen in bloom. We had it here once but dug it out because it was a bit insignificant where it was located. It is better as a border plant than a specimen plant and this particular one shown above was well located beside a steep path, so it could be viewed from both above and alongside.

It is a largish, deciduous shrub from the coastal plains of south eastern USA. The foliage is scented when crushed, variously described as spicy, aromatic or smelling of camphor (which means like Vicks Vapour Rub to me) but I wasn’t going to pick a leaf and test it, given my position as a garden visitor. Nor did I smell the blooms which are reputedly scented though the online references run the gamut from ‘highly scented’ to ‘evening scented’ to the sage advice to buy the plant in bloom because the strength of the scent varies greatly between individual cultivars. I think it likely that most plants in New Zealand will be from a single clone so there may not be choice on this aspect.

It is one of those curiosities that is not commonly seen in gardens here with blooms that are interesting rather than spectacular. It is never going to be as showy as the viburnums that are in bloom right now but pretty much every garden has those whereas only a few will have the calycanthus. For some gardeners – and some garden visitors – the delight lies in something less predictable.

For anybody out and about visiting Taranaki gardens during the festival this week, this fine specimen can be found in Tainui Close, the city garden of Chris Paul and Kevin Wensor. Mark tells me he has another plant of it languishing in his Pile of Neglect – his term for a collection of plants waiting for him to find the right location before he gets around to planting them out.

Viburnums - also flowering now.  I think this one is probably V. plicatum 'Mariesii" or Lanarth.

Viburnums – also flowering now. I think this one is probably V. plicatum ‘Mariesii” or Lanarth.

2 thoughts on “Plant Collector: Calycanthus floridus

  1. Nick Miller

    Hi Abby
    Re Calycanthus floridus, I visted Peter Cave in Cambridge a few years back, I think it was shortly before he closed his nursery. He had a nice batch of Calycanthus floridus seedlings in pots and in flower, so I selected out a striking nearly black example, which is flowering in my garden as I type this. It is a very dark deep red-black brown – that’s the best description I can come up with – rather handsome, but with narrower petals than your plant. So there are a number of clones scattered around – I’m sure that Peter will have sold some of the other ones – they were nice too! He listed it in his 2001 and 2007 catalogues (and maybe others). Daniel J. Hinkley has a nice chapter on Calycanthus in his ‘The Explorer’s Garden – Shrubs and Vines from the Four Corners of the World’ (Timber Press 2009) – heartily recommended! I got my copy from Touchwood Books.
    Nick Miller, Lake Rotoiti

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      Interesting that Peter was selling seedlings – I didn’t know that. We bought one from him (the one we cut out) and Mark has since bought a named clone from Vance Hooper, I think, to replace it. Haven’t seen the Hinkley book – thanks for the recommendation.

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