The African elephant is known for having the longest gestation period of any animal, which lasts up to 22 months. This is the proverbial New York minute when it is compared to bringing a new shrub to market. Take, for instance, crossing two native sweetshrubs to finally get one worthy of the name “Simply Scensational.”
Tim Wood, aka The Plant Hunter, did just that. And now, after just over a dozen years and thousands of sniffs, Simply Scentational will make its debut in spring 2022. Granny’s sweetshrub is now a more beautiful deep burgundy red with a fragrance that will send you into a state of euphoria.
Simply Scentational is an upright grower, reaching 6 feet in height with a spread of 5 feet. It is recommended for hardiness zones 4-9. Botanically speaking, Calycanthus floridus is native in 20-plus states in the Eastern United States, as far north as New York and south as Florida. In addition to the name sweetshrub, it is also called Carolina allspice and spicebush. Those names tell you a lot. Try cutting a stem or two for the vase.
The first time I saw the native sweetshrub, I instantly fell in love with it. The small deep burgundy flowers and fragrance was an instant lure. I would see them at old homes and plant swaps, but almost never in the marketplace.
The Western U.S. is not without their own version. The California allspice, Calycanthus occidentalis, is somewhat similar, with thinner petals and a little less fragrance. Both native versions, however, have been used in breeding to turn the sweetshrub world upside down.
Simply Scentsational will now give Proven Winners an outstanding duo, as they also have Aphrodite, which comes courtesy of North Carolina State University breeding. It is a hybrid between the California allspice and an Asian species, Sinocalycanthus. Aphrodite is even larger, reaching up to 8 feet tall with a spread of 7 feet.
Not only is the plant larger, but so are the red-cupped flowers that remind some of magnolia blossoms. The fragrance is described as fruity with aromas of pineapples and apples. The bloom age and time of day also play a role in the olfactory experience. These shrubs are cold hardy from zones 5-9 and perform best in fertile, well-drained soil in full sun to partial shade. The more sun, the more moisture needed.
As true to the native species, expect them to offer root suckers. Remove these to create a more picturesque structure. On the other hand, this trait is what makes them one of the better screens for the landscape. The yellow fall leaf color is a great addition to the woodland garden, where it will stand out from quite a distance. Many will also be ecstatic to know these are not on the deer menu!
One thing is certain: Our grandparents would be elated over both Simply Scentsational and Aphrodite sweetshrubs. What’s extra special is that, thanks to Proven Winners, they are available in garden centers. I hope you will plant some and make some fragrant memories for your children.
(Norman Winter, horticulturist, garden speaker and author of “Tough-as-Nails Flowers for the South” and “Captivating Combinations: Color and Style in the Garden.” Follow him on Facebook @NormanWinterTheGardenGuy.)
(NOTE TO EDITORS: Norman Winter receives complimentary plants to review from the companies he covers.)
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This story was originally published December 23, 2021 4:00 AM.