How To Care For Calycanthus Occidentalis

Calycanthus Occidentalis [kal-ee-KAN-thus, ok-sih-den-TAY-liss] has a difficult name to pronounce. Most people simply call it the spicebush. 

Other common names include:

  • Carolina sweet shrub
  • Carolina spicebush
  • Carolina allspice
flowering calycanthus occidentalis (spice bush)Pin

The spicebush is a shrub with dark red to purplish-brown flowers arriving in the late spring or early summer. 

It’s part of the Calycanthaceae family of plants and comes from the Southwestern United States.

It’s a popular plant, often used for hedges and borders.

Calycanthus Occidentalis Care

Size and Growth

Carolina allspice is a deciduous shrub reaching up to 9′ feet tall and 9′ feet wide. 

It has bright green leaves measuring up to 6″ inches long and a little over 2″ inches wide. 

The bark and twigs contain a strong waxy, flammable scent, especially when the outer bark is scraped.

Flowering and Fragrance

Along with strongly scented bark, the plant has fragrant flowers. The flowers appear from late spring to early fall.

The flowers typically reach about 3″ inches wide. The flowers are often a dark red or burgundy color. 

Light and Temperature

Grow the plant from full sun to partial shade. It can tolerate close to complete shade in cool regions.

The plant is winter hardy to USDA zones 6 to 9, including its native region in the Southwestern United States. 

If conditions drop below freezing during the winter, use root mulch to protect the root system.

Watering and Feeding

Established plants should not require watering, except during dry periods. 

Ensure the potted plants receive consistent moisture throughout the spring and summer. 

If the top several inches of soil becomes dry, water the plant.

Use slow-release fertilizer in the spring to encourage fuller growth of young plants. 

Mature plants don’t require fertilizer. 

Soil and Transplanting

Spicebush can tolerate a variety of soils but grows best in sandy soil or rich, moist loam. 

The soil should retain water while also providing good drainage.

Transplant potted plants when they outgrow their current containers or every two to three years. 

Use fresh soil to help prevent root rot.


Prune the plant after the last threat of frost, when pruning outdoor plants. 

Prune potted plants as needed to manage growth.

Spicebush produces many suckers. 

Removing the offshoots as they appear helps prevent them from taking root and producing new plants. 

How to Propagate Carolina Allspice Bush

Propagate spicebush using cuttings, seeds, or offshoots. 

As mentioned, the plant produces many offshoots, which appear near the base of the plant.

  • Carefully dig up the offshoots using a spade or shovel while trying to keep the root system intact. 
  • Softwood cuttings should be taken in the spring. 
  • Select a section measuring at least 5″ to 6″ inches and contains several sets of leaves.
  • Remove the leaves on the lower half of the cuttings and strip away the bark around the bottom one inch of the cuttings. 
  • Dip the ends in rooting hormone powder.
  • Plant offshoots or cuttings in 6″ inch pots using rich, loamy soil. 
  • Adding peat moss to standard potting soil should provide the right environment.
  • Keep the offshoots or cuttings moist. 
  • Placing a plastic bag over the pot should help lock in the moisture.
  • Open the bag each day to air it out and prevent mold growth. 
  • After six to eight weeks, the young plants should take root. 
  • Wait until new growth appears before transplanting outdoors or to individual pots.

To propagate from seed, collect the seed pods after the bloom. 

  • The seed pods should slowly turn brown and start to dry out.
  • Wrapping small plastic bags around the seed pods and tying them off is one method for collecting them before they fall.
  • After removing the dried seed pods, allow the pods to dry for another week. 
  • Store them in a paper bag.
  • Shake the bag to loosen the seeds. 
  • Dump the contents on a clear surface and separate the seeds from the debris.
  • Plant seeds in 6″ inch pots with the same loamy soil recommended for cuttings and offshoots. 
  • Water the soil deeply and keep the pots in a sunny, warm spot.
  • The seedlings should emerge in one to two months, and new growth should appear by spring. 
  • After the last threat of frost, transplant the young plants.

Carolina Allspice Bush Pest or Disease Problems

Calycanthus Occidentalis does not suffer from any common insect or disease problems. 

While it is mostly pest and disease free, any indoor plant may occasionally suffer from spider mite infestations.

Spider mites are more common when conditions get dry, such as during the winter. 

Use a miticide to treat the infestation before it becomes severe.

The plant also contains a potentially fatal toxin. 

All parts of the plant may contain calycanthine, which shares similar properties with strychnine. 

Keep the plant away from children, pets, and livestock.

Signs of poisoning include vomiting, nausea, dizziness, seizures, and a racing heartbeat. 

Seek immediate medical attention if any part of the plant is ingested.

Suggested Calycanthus Occidentalis Uses

The large shrub is often used to create borders or placed near foundations or other structures providing partial shade.

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