Plant of the Week: SIMPLY SCENTSATIONAL® Sweetshrub

Sweetshrub should be sweet, right?

With a common name like that, Calycanthus floridus should be sweetly scented. Which it is unless it isn’t. That’s because the fragrance of this native shrub can vary quite a bit from plant to plant, and you might not be sure your specimen would deliver the expected fragrance until you actually take a moment to stop and smell the flowers.

That’s why we selected Simply Scentsational® Calycanthus. This cultivar has outstanding fragrance that you can rely on. That makes it an easier choice to include this underutilized species in landscapes and gardens. It’s native, deer resistant, easy to grow, and you can be sure you will enjoy sweetly scented flowers each spring.

It’s also very adaptable – hardy in USDA 4-9, and it will grow in sun or part shade. It’s native to stream banks and edges of eastern woodlands and is a natural choice for woodland gardens, cutting gardens, or as a unique specimen. It grows 6′ tall and 4-5′ wide

Heavens to Betsy!

Calycanthus floridus has many common names, including sweetshrub, Carolina allspice, strawberry-bush, sweet hubby, spicebush, and sweet Betsy.

But since there are no universally accepted rules for assigning common names, when you call your friend in Ohio to talk about your fragrant new sweet Betsy plant, he might think you’re referring to the sweet Betsy Trillium (Trillium cuneatum) that grows in his own woodland garden! You can see where the confusion might lie.

This is where plant naming using binomial nomenclature comes in very handy. Let’s unpack some history to better understand binomial nomenclature and how it came about.

In the 15th and 16th centuries, botanists used a long string of unwieldy descriptive names for plants, called polynomials. For example, the good old Morning Glory started with the botanical name, Convolvulus folio Althaea.

But every time a new variation of the plant was discovered, its botanical name would have something added to it so that you could distinguish it from its predecessor. So it became, Convolvulus argenteus Althaea folio, which eventually ended up as: Convolvulus argentateus foliis ovatis divisis basi truncatis: laciniis intermediis duplo longioribus. Yikes.

So, in the 1600s, two fellows named Caspar Bauhin and August Rivinus proposed that plants ought to have names of no more than two words, also known as binomial nomenclature.

It was a great idea, but it didn’t really catch on. For the next 100 years, plants would still largely be identified by their common names, so the same plant could be called many different things depending on which part of the world you happened to be in.

How could a roving botanist keep them all straight?

That’s where Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus comes in.

In the mid-1700s, he formalized the use of binomial nomenclature in his whopper of a book “Species Plantarum” or, The Species of Plants. His book marked the first consistent use of a naming structure for plants, and it laid the basis for modern nomenclature.

Now don’t get me wrong; there’s nothing wrong with common names. They are often simple, easy to remember, descriptive, colorful, and easy to pronounce. But there’s far less confusion when you know that all plants have two names to identify them that don’t vary, the genus, which is a more general name (Calycanthus), and the specific epithet (floridus), which is more, well, specific. These two things together form the plant’s botanical name – Calycanthus floridus.

That was a lot of history for one blog post. Calycanthus floridus and Carl Linnaeus, thank you for hanging in there.

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