The Plant Native

Sweetshrub

Highlights

Sweetshrubs are native bushes known for their distinctive dark-red flowers that often smell heavenly (hence the name.) The smell is sometimes described as pineapple, strawberry, melon, or bubble gum. They prefer part-sun and are native to a wide range of the East Coast. Sweetshrubs are perfect for the edges of yards or hedgerows. These fast-growing shrubs can turn into small trees, growing to 12 feet tall when happy. Regardless of the candy flavor you associate their smell with, plant Sweetshrub immediately.

Sun – Part Shade
12′ tall
Great-smelling flowers
Calycanthus floridus

Dig Deeper

Explore the history, types, and where to plant native Sweetshrubs

Table of Contents

Sweetshrubs are wonderful native plants that deserve a place in Northeastern, Southern, and Mid-Atlantic gardens. Planting native shrubs like Sweetshrub helps make yards and parks gorgeous (and sweet-smelling!) and saves time, money, and care—especially when compared to lawns or non-native plants. Here are the benefits and challenges of growing Sweetshrub.

The many sweet common names of Sweetshrub

This plant has many common names, each an attempt to pay homage to its smell: Carolina allspice, sweet bubby, sweet Betsy, Carolina Sweetshrub, or Strawberry Bush (its Latin name is Calycanthus floridus.)

How do you describe the Sweetshrub scent?

There is no consensus on how to describe the smell—the descriptions range from strawberry to banana. We love this quote from Horticulture Magazine:

“If you’re in for a good time, fill a room with plant dweebs and ask each to describe the fragrance of C. floridus flowers. All will agree that it varies quite a bit from one plant to the next, from flower to flower on one plant and from morning until evening. But that’s about where the consensus ends. The scent is strawberry, green apple—I even had one group of University of Maine woody-plant students concur that it smelled like that crunchy white paste used (still?) by kindergarteners across the land. Bruised bark and roots smell of camphor or, by that same class of college students, gin and tonic.”

Not all native Sweetshrubs have a strong scent

A note on its smell: while all Sweetshrubs have beautiful flowers, not all native Sweetshrubs have a sweet fragrance. The range of smell can range from plant to plant. If you are looking for a candy-smelling Sweetshrub, take a cutting from a Sweetshrub that has the smell, or buy plants from a local nursery or plant sale that can attest to their fragrance. Otherwise, you may end up with a Sweetshrub that looks fantastic but might not live up to the ‘Strawberry bush’ common name.

If you want a scented Sweetshrub, look for these cultivars

Cultivar is a name that comes from CULTivated VARiety, or a plant that has been curated or changed in some way by humans. (Here is a quick cultivar overview.) Cultivars offer a wide range of smells, colors, heights, and drought tolerance, but often do not provide the same nutrients and benefits that true native plants—which have not been changed by humans—do.

There are a few Sweetshrub cultivars that have been cultivated to offer good-smelling flowers. These Sweetshrub cultivars include:

Sweetshrub range from USDA

Where is Sweetshrub native?

Sweetshrub is native to a wide portion of the Northeastern, Mid-Atlantic, and Southern US, from Massachusetts to Florida.

Sweetshrub in full bloom, living its best life under some taller trees. Image by Sarah's Yard.

Sweetshrubs through the seasons

Sweetshrubs offer four seasons of beauty—it’s not just about the flowers!

In spring, it bursts forth with clusters of the exquisite maroon flowers, emitting a fragrant scent reminiscent of ripe strawberries or spiced apples. As the weather warms up, the glossy, dark green leaves take center stage, creating a lush and vibrant backdrop for your garden.

When summer arrives, the Sweetshrub continues to impress with its glossy green leaves.

As autumn paints the world with color the Sweetshrub steals the show once again. Its green leaves transform into rich yellows, burnt oranges, and deep reds, adding a fiery touch to the seasonal leaf party.

Even as winter settles in, this resilient shrub refuses to go unnoticed. Its interesting seed pods, resembling small, woody capsules, look like tiny fairy houses hanging from the branches. And then it’s time to start the show all over again!

How to grow Sweetshrub

Sweetshrub is an understory shrub or a plant that likes to grow underneath larger trees when in nature. Because of this, it appreciates some shade, especially during the hottest parts of the day. While the Sweetshrub is generally low-maintenance, occasional pruning after it flowers will help maintain its shape and encourage optimal growth.

What to plant with Sweetshrub

Sweetshrub looks wonderful with part-shade shorter native plants underneath, like Alum Root/ heuchera. It also looks amazing planted alongside other native shrubs that offer other seasonal showstoppers, like Winterberry and Ninebark. If you’re looking for a tree to plant beside it, check out Tulip Populars, Sweetbay Magnolias, and Redbuds.

Heuchera 'Green-Spice' by Patrick Standish

Alum Root (Heuchera)

mountain-laurel-native-shrub-flower

Mountain Laurel

ninebark-5755860_1280

Ninebark

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Oakleaf Hydrangea

redbud-tree-in-bloom-native-tree

Redbud

A white Sweetbay Magnolia flower blooming, photographed growing on a branch of the Sweetbay Magnolia tree.

Sweetbay Magnolia

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Tulip Poplar

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Winterberry

In conclusion, the Sweetshrub is a native shrub that belongs in gardens in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, Midwest, and South. Its beauty changes throughout the seasons, with origami candy flowers in the spring, lush foliage in summer, stunning colors in autumn, and intriguing seed pods in winter. Native plants like the Sweetshrub let us have beautiful landscapes with less work, time, and money—especially compared to lawns. So, why not plant a few? Happy planting!

UPDATED —
04/01/2024
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