Calycanthus floridus ‘Athens’

All three of the commonly-recognized species of Calycanthus (sweetshrubs or spicebushes) have previously been featured on BPotD: Calycanthus occidentalis from western USA, Calycanthus chinensis from eastern China (syn. Sinocalycanthus chinensis), and Calycanthus floridus from eastern USA. A fourth species, Calycanthus brockianus, endemic to Georgia (USA) is sometimes accepted.

Calycanthus floridus ‘Athens’ is a yellow-flowered variant of the species. Prominent horticulturist Michael Dirr makes note of the history of this taxon in his Manual of Woody Landscape Plants, stating that the origin of the yellow-flowered variant has been “lost to antiquity”. He further describes it as having a “tremendous fragrance–as good as I have ever experienced on any sweetshrub…this plant has brought great delight to our garden and home and virtually every garden could make use of such a plant”. This cultivar was introduced to the trade through the plant evaluation programs at the University of Georgia in Athens (the photo is from the State Botanical Garden of Georgia, also in the city).

Calycanthus floridus 'Athens'

7 responses to “Calycanthus floridus ‘Athens’”

  1. Jessica

    Lovely photo. I’ve never seen this cultivar of one of our loveliest native shrubs. It’s charming. Nice to read about it having such a great fragrance, too.

  2. Ginny

    I purchased one of these shrubs 25 years ago, but it turned out to have no fragrance at all. Later I read that individuals vary considerably in their fragrance. Anyone interested in an ‘Athens’ should buy one in flower so they can check the fragrance. Those that are fragrant have a wonderful, fruity aroma, as Dr. Dirr describes.

  3. drbob

    More than the flowers have the wonderful aroma. The roots also have the smell — you can tell if an out-of-flower plant will have smelly flowers by pulling the plant out of the pot and sniffing the roots.

  4. Stuart

    How is it that the three “commonly-recognized species” of Calycanthus ended up in three geographically separate areas (China, western US and eastern US)? Very unusual, isn’t it?

  5. Daniel Mosquin

    Stuart, not that unusual. There are many genera of plants with an eastern Asia-eastern North America distribution. Here’s a good backgrounder on that particular topic: Eastern Asian – Eastern North American Phytogeographical Relationships – A History From The Time of Linnaeus To The Twentieth Century. That’s a 1983 paper, there’s been much subsequent research. You can see this BPotD entry that discusses it as well (with a link to a more modern paper).
    As to the western North American species, there are several possibilities if we accept the eastern Asian-eastern North American evidence. These include (but wouldn’t be limited to): a subsequent dispersal from an eastern North American ancestor; a later dispersal from Asia through a land bridge; evolution from a common Asian ancestor for the two North American species; and so on.
    Of these, it seems like the latter is what the evidence points to: Molecular phylogeny and intra- and intercontinental biogeography of Calycanthaceae (PDF).

  6. Stuart

    Daniel, thanks very much for the very helpful info.

  7. Nahcr

    I have grown Athens for about 10 years in my garden. It smells good and I like it very much. However, both Athens and the hybrid calycanthus Venus develop black spots on the petals fairly quickly after opening. I also have red seedling calycanthus floridus and calycanthus Hartlage Wine. These dark flowered varieties don’t seem to show the black spots, or the apparent frost burn on the tips of Athens flowers. Any idea what this is? I have searched the web several times and never saw anything. I’m on the edge between zone 6 and 7, near Washington DC.
    The following are individual photos and a set of photos that show what I am talking about.
    Set of calycanthus pictures including some showing the black spots and frost burn
    black spot on calycanthus Venus:
    black spot on Athens:
    Frost burn on Athens:
    A flickr picture from another person showing black spot on Athens:

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