Calycanthus floridus L.

Carolina Allspice

Calycanthus floridus plant

Family - Calycanthaceae

Habit - Shrub to 3 m.

Stems - Erect to ascending, to 3 m, hairy, purplish-brown, buds naked, usually hidden by petioles during growing season.

Calycanthus_floridus_leafStem and node.

Leaves - Opposite, simple, short petiolate, ovate to oblong-elliptic, entire, adaxially roughened, abaxially pubescent.

Calycanthus floridus leaf1Leaf adaxial.

Calycanthus_floridus_leafLeaf abaxial.

Inflorescence - Flowers solitary at branch tips.

Calycanthus_floridus_inflorescenceInflorescence structure.

Flowers - Actinomorphic, perfect, perigynous. Perianth of numerous free tepals to 4.0 cm long, hairy on the outer surface, red to maroon, the innermost tepals usually white-tipped. Stamens numerous, the outer 10-15 fertile and the inner 10-25 reduced to linear, hairy staminodes. Pistils 10-35 per flower, each with 1 carpel. Ovary with 1 locule and 2 ovules (1 abortive), hairy. Style slender, attached off-center at the tip of the ovary, with a minute, decurrent stigma.



Fruits - Plump achenes 10-12 mm long, finely hairy, dark brown, with a circumferential seam. Enclosed within the expanded, flask-shaped receptacle.

Calycanthus_floridus_fruitAchenes inside receptacle.

Flowering - April - June.

Habitat - Understory or margin of mesic woodlands.

Origin - Native to southeastern U.S.

Lookalikes - None when flowering.

Other info.- This interesting shrub is rare in Missouri, with only two populations reported in the wild. Both of these represent escapes or plants persisting from former cultivation. The population in Babler State Park (St. Louis County) was discovered in 1995 by members of the Webster Groves Nature Study Society. Outside of Missouri, the plant's range is the southeastern U.S.

This is an easy species to identify when flowering because of its big, maroon flowers. The stems and leaves have a pleasing strawberry-like fragrance when crushed. The plant is certainly worthy of more widespread cultivation. However, despite the "allspice" common moniker, the plants (especially the seeds) are poisonous to both humans and livestock due to their content of alkaloids such as calycanthine.

The genus name comes from the Greek "caly" meaning "the calyx" and "anthus" meaning "a flower" as the perianth parts on this species are undifferentiated. The species epithet floridus is from the Latin "florid" meaning "flowery". Missouri plants are considered to be of var. floridus, having leaves which are pubescent on the lower surface.

Photographs taken in Linville, NC, 5-11-03, and in Auburn, AL, 4-16-05 (DETenaglia); also at Babler State Park, St. Louis County, MO, 11-14-2011 and 5-2-2017 (SRTurner).