It's the first time I have ever seen a bloom on it, and such a beauty. At least two inches in diameter, and a wonderful strong red, edging ever so slightly into the brown range - a kind of light maroon. It does have a pleasant spicy smell, not quite cinnamon, not quite nutmeg but in that general range.
I planted the bush on the other side of the trellis whereon groweth the Dutchman's Pipe vine, Aristolochia californica, which I planted at the same time, October of 07, so they are not quite three years old. I had hoped to see the interesting Dutchman's pipe blooms by now - conversation pieces as it were, for the entrance deck to our home, and enticements to the Pipevine Swallowtale (Battus philenor) whose larvae can feed on it. But so far nada. I did give it a thorough pruning early in the year though and I think it put all its strength into growing back from that. Next year!
I walked round to the other side of the trellis to get a better look at the spicebush -- lots of other blooms are coming! Late spring and all through summer is the promise, with some kind of interesting woody fruits that persist into winter - I look forward to seeing those too. I wonder if the birds will eat them?
And by the way, the deer pretty much leave spicebush alone. Yay! -- So far anyway!
Spicebush is winter deciduous, but I can't remember how it looks in autumn. In my planting notes I wrote that it has green long smooth ovate leaves, pale gold in autumn. The leaves are wonderfully large and very green and softly glossy, which I appreciate since so many of the local natives here have small hard leaves to withstand the summer dryness.
I planted this shrub - and the Dutchman's Pipe vine - from 1 gallon pots bought in a CNPS sale in October of 07. It is now about four feet tall and wide, spreading, in a typically shrubby multi-trunked way. It can grow to eight feet (Western Garden Book says 12).
I irrigate this area on a whimsical basis. At most once a month. It is not on the drip/microspray tangle of tubes I optimistically call "the irrigation system." It happy here in full sun from late morning to mid afternoon. California Native Plants for the Garden says this plant can take full sun to partial shade, with occasional to regular water. It grows in moist areas though, so it may prefer more water than I've been doling out in our dry summers.
Once established, it can spread aggressively, I read. It has started to take off this year, so we'll see how it behaves as time goes by. I read that it can be good for erosion control, but I won't use it that way: I plan to use local indigenous natives for the slopes around here (I have baby toyon and ocean spray from cuttings, growing in pots for fall planting). I'm using it as an ornamental, to soften the walls of the house.
I read that some American Indians used scraped bark of Calycanthus occidentalis medicinally in treating severe colds (D. E. Moerman 1986).
I also read that it is not necessary to prune this shrub for shape, and it is true that it grows lush to the ground and in a roundish shape. You can prune it to a multi-trunked tree, or a hedge. In due course I will prune out some of its nice light brown stems from the base. I don't want it to get too enormous or too congested. Also I think the deer may have pruned it for me early on. They eat pretty much any plant when it's very young.
California Native Plants for the Garden also has a few companion planting suggestions:
For shady locations: Foothill sedge, western meadow rue, Douglas iris, giant chain fern.
For sunny locations: Coffeeberry and deer grass.
Spicebush naturally occurs in moist places below 4000 feet in the North Coast Ranges, southern Cascade Range, and foothills of the Sierra Nevada. Interestingly, Calflora.org tell me that both of these plants have been observed just one time in my county - in the Watsonville Sloughs, a wetlands area which includes the well-known Elkhorn Slough - across the Monterey Bay from us. So they could be local, but if so they are very rare locally, and they are not local to my drier habitats here on the ridge.
My current restoration philosophy is this: Close to the house, I'll plant anything I like, as long as it is not invasive or a major fire hazard. Farther off I'm a bit more strict, and use only local natives, preferably propagated from what grows here or in the immediate neighborhood.
In a fire prone area like this, you're not supposed to plant shrubs close to the house, but not all shrubs are equal. This is quite a juicy shrub, and anyway, the trellis is sticking out more than the shrub itself. Not that that is a good thing either, just a bit of justificationary mental gymnastics. On the Las Pilitas nursery leaf burn times page, Bert says:
If after sixty seconds the plant didn't light, that's amazing. Bushes that burnt after 15-30 seconds are about as flammable as your home. Some of the Ceanothus should be considered heat shields.Well, Calycanthus occidentalis is one of those that takes longer than 60 seconds and the comment is "will not stay lit." Aristolochia californica also takes longer than 60 seconds to ignite.
So if you have room for a mid-sized shrub in your garden (Western Garden zones 4-9, 14-24), I recommend you consider the handsome spicebush. Besides its beauty and easy-care attributes, it is also resistant to oak root fungus and is insect and disease free.