Fragrant Sweet Betsy Bush for North Carolina Gardens - Carolina Country

The riddle of sweet Betsy

By L.A. Jackson

The riddle of sweet Betsy
Sweet Betsy

When the small, deep maroon to rust-red flowers of the sweet Betsy bush (Calycanthus floridus) open in the spring, some gardeners swear they have one of the most pleasing garden fragrances on the planet, while other backyard growers swear at their bushes for having absolutely no scent.

What gives?

It seems sweet Betsy can be a fickle lady. Also known as sweet shrub, Carolina allspice, strawberry shrub, spicebush and sweet bubby bush, this native ornamental, which grows 6 to 9 feet high, produces masses of blossoms that, depending on the plant, can range in fragrance from very obvious to none at all.

So, how can you get your hands on a sweet Betsy that is guaranteed to waft wonderful perfume into your garden? Just walk close to one in full bloom and sniff. A scented sweet Betsy is hard to miss.

If the bush you find is in a friend's yard, suckers readily sprout in the soil from the main plant, so, with permission, you can dig up one of the plantlets, which, in time, will produce the same sweet flowers. Although it is better to transplant suckers in the fall or winter, they can be moved in the spring if ground moisture needs are met during their first summer in the garden.

The straight species of sweet Betsy is the main culprit that produces wild swings in fragrance strength, but cultivars have been developed to be more dependable when it comes to sweet aromas. Three such selections are 'Edith Wilder', 'Michael Lindsey' and 'Athens' (which actually has yellowish-green flowers). However, since there is still some variation in scent intensity and particular smell, which can range from strawberries, bananas, pineapples to even bubblegum, visit local nurseries this spring when these bushes are in bloom and let your nose choose the right sweet Betsy for you.

And while its fragrant flowers are what draws most gardeners to sweet Betsy, also keep in mind that, come autumn, this lady exits the growing season in a coat of gorgeous yellow leaves.

Garden To Do's

  • If this year's cool spring delayed the start of your warm-season veggie patch, don't worry, May is still a prime time to plant snap beans, tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, watermelons, pumpkins, corn and cantaloupes.
  • And if you held off until now planting hot peppers, sweet peppers, eggplant, southern peas, lima beans and okra, you are one smart gardener because these heat-seeking vegetables are especially sensitive to being grown in cool soil.
  • Remember where you planted your taros, hostas, hardy begonias, Japanese anemones or butterfly weed? Don't be so quick to write them off as dead and find replacements — these shy beauties usually sprout late in the spring.
  • Climbing roses don't live up to their name — they need to be trained and tied onto supports. To prevent damage, tie them loosely.
  • If azaleas are looking a little raggedy, wait until after they have finished blooming to trim them into proper shape.
  • Tender summer bulbs such as caladiums, dahlias, cannas and gladioli can now be planted.
  • Whether for the lawn or the garden, when you water, water deeply. Long, thorough waterings encourage roots to penetrate deep into the soil, making plants less susceptible to suffering during periods of hot, dry weather.
  • Have an old mail box in the garage? Give it a fresh, bright coat of paint and nail it to a post in the garden to store string, plant tags, twist-ties, hand tools and other small backyard-growing essentials.
  • The water garden is beginning to get into the swing of spring. For the best flower shows from lily and lotus plants, fertilize them about every three weeks. Marginal plants such as rose mallow, cardinal flower, spike rush, dwarf papyrus, colocasia and sweet flag will also benefit from a light addition of nutrients every five to six weeks.

About the Author

L.A. Jackson is the former editor of Carolina Gardener Magazine. If you would like to ask him a question about your garden, contact L.A. at:

Comments (31)

  • How do I order the seeds for this Bush I call them sweet bubby bushes

    Debbie wilson |
    November 09, 2017 |

  • How can I get seeds or a cutting off of a sweet betty bush proper name is Calcasieu floridus. Would love to be able to get my hands on one. Thanks

    Jessie Ward |
    June 17, 2019 |

  • Jessie,

    If you have a friend who has a sweet Betsy bush, look under it for small sprouts in the dirt that spring off the main plant's root system. I would wait until fall to to any digging and transplanting, however. If you can't wait, Niche Gardens ( in Chapel Hills sells it online.

    Happy Trails,
    L.A. Jackson

    L.A. Jackson |
    June 17, 2019 |

    • could you put it in the mail or send packed by u p s. I will be happy to send you money

      Barbara Plemmons |
      April 15, 2020 |

  • I have tried for years to get this bush. how can I get a bush

    Barbara Plemmons |
    April 07, 2020 |

    • Barbara,
      I would love to give you a cutting or whatever it takes. I am not sure what to do to get it to you, I am in Wilson.

      Ed Stines |
      April 08, 2020 |

      • Ed Stines,
        Would it be possible for me to get a cutting? I’ve been looking for this plant for a while. Thanks for any help

        Penny Rivera |
        May 01, 2020 |

  • I have looked for a while for a sweet bubby bush for my mom. Does anyone know where I can get one? I live in Mount Holly, NC

    Patricia |
    April 26, 2020 |

    • Patricia I have a abundance of sweet Betsy plants I live in Creedmoor nc

      Edward |
      May 24, 2021 |

      • What part of Creedmoor? I would love to get/pay for some sprouts.

        Lorie |
        May 30, 2021 |

      • I would like to have one or two. How can this happen?

        Sam Radford |
        May 27, 2022 |

  • Available at near Pittsboro

    Elizabeth Pointer |
    June 13, 2020 |

  • I have been looking for a scented candle made with sweet Betsy fragrance. Is it available to purchase.

    Frank Bunn |
    June 30, 2020 |

  • I have a Sweet Betsy Bush that has a lot of suckers sprouting up around the bush. I'm planning to dig up some so if you'd like one, let me know. I am in Greenville NC.

    Larry S. PARKS |
    April 12, 2021 |

    • oh my gosh......I grew up with the most fragrant in my front yard. Absolutely one of my most fond memories of my childhood . I would love to pay you for some and also pay for shipping. I live in Forest VA...When I saw your post I thought how wonderful it would be to have this in my yard.

      April 24, 2021 |

    • I’d love a sweet Betsy plant if you still have one available. I also live in Greenville NC

      Lois Barrett |
      May 30, 2021 |

    • Would love to have three sucker . I travel to Greenville monthly.

      Joanne Hardy |
      May 12, 2022 |

    • Do you still have sprouts from sweet Betsy bush? I would love to have some shipped to me.

      Karen |
      May 15, 2022 |

  • I'm not sure what a Sweet Betsy Bush is and I love gardening and flowers. We are building a home in Lincolnton, N.C. (presently live in Kentucky) and are exploring landscaping. Is it possible for you to send a picture of the plant?
    If so, thanks in advance. Peggie

    April 13, 2021 |

    • I live in Lincolnton, when is your house going to be finished ?

      Jean Keenan |
      April 30, 2021 |

  • Sweet Betsy does not always come true from seeds. It is best to dig the suckers in the spring and either pot them up to plant in the fall or plant and keep watered.

    Linda Johnson Ahlgrim |
    June 03, 2021 |

  • Has anyone ever tried drying these & using for fall decor? I can't remember where I saw these as a child (or smelled them) but would love having these as part of my fall decor. Any tips?

    A. Caldwell |
    September 23, 2021 |

  • I make a bouquet with them. I have dried the flowers and kept them in a bowl. They make wonderful sachets tied in fabric. People used to wear them in or on their clothes. The bush colonizes and actually now is a good time to dig the suckers to transplant. This Winter I am going to do some drastic cutting back on my colony.

    Linda Johnson Ahlgrim |
    September 23, 2021 |

  • Are these sweet shrubs deer resistant? Want to get some, but worry about the deer eating them. I am in NJ and will be getting a few bushes from the Arbor Day Foundation. Hope to see these lovely bushes in our yard! Thanks

    Leslie Jirouschek |
    December 30, 2021 |

  • I live in Warren County,NC on the VA/NC line. If anyone has the sweet smelling Sweet Betsy I would love to have a sprout.

    Angela Hyson |
    February 06, 2022 |

  • I live in Greenville NC. I’d love to have a sweet Betsy bush sprout.

    Lois Barrett |
    February 07, 2022 |

  • My sweet Betsy doesn’t have fragrance to it! Is there anything I can add to it to help it?? Fertilizer or something???

    Kim Stewart |
    April 03, 2022 |

  • My parents had a sweet "bubby" bush in their backyard for YEARS, but it eventually died and I haven't been able to find another one. I live in Lexington, NC so if anyone knows where I can buy one, or if they have a sprout they can ship (I'll pay for it), I would greatly appreciate it!

    Donna Hunter |
    May 13, 2022 |

  • I purchased a sweet Betsy bush from Littles Nursery in Greenville NC

    Lois Barrett |
    June 07, 2022 |

  • I purchased mine from Michigan Bulbs and just received it yesterday. Now finding the right spot to plant it! I love the smell also!

    Debbie Dickerson |
    June 09, 2022 |

  • How long does it take the sprout to grow and produce flowers? I have one its only about 5 inches tall. Thanks

    Susan Smith |
    June 16, 2022 |

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