Calycanthus ‘Hartlage Wine’

This shrub was one of the first I planted in the garden. I remember calycanthus from my student days, large shrubs with strange, magnolia-like flowers that smelt of cider vinegar and large, rough leaves that were aromatic. It was a plant that had an effect on me far in excess of its ornamental value. The flowers are dull, wine red and the smells the plant produced were hardly ‘lovely’, though they were memorable, so when I saw ‘Hartlage Wine’ for sale it was an easy purchase. Calycanthus floridus is often called the Carolina allspice and ‘floridus’ means ‘lots of flowers’ and not that it is from Florida. The flowers are supposed to smell, not of vinegar, as I remember, but of strawberries, pineapple or banana. It is a large shrub, that suckers, and blooms in early summer. The name is derived from ‘calyx’ and anthus – flower, because the flowers have no differentiated sepals and petals.

Calycanthus x raulstonii ‘Hartlage Wine’ or x Calycanthus raulstonii ‘Hartlage Wine’ is probably more common than C. floridus. The two options for the name derive from the fact that it was a hybrid between Sinocalycanthus chinensis and C. floridus, and is thus a bigeneric hybrid. But sinocalycanthus is now considered to be simply calycanthus so the ‘x’ has to move.

In any case it was bred in 1991 by Richard Hartlage, at the J C Raulston Arboretum at North Carolina State University, so commemorates two people. It has larger flowers than the American species and as they open they reveal inner petals tipped with white. More recent developments include the larger-flowered, and probably better ‘Aphrodite’ (2013) and the very desirable white-flowered ‘Venus’ (2005).

My ‘Hartlage Wine’ has had a tough time. Though hardy, the new growth is very vulnerable to late frosts which, in my garden, are the rule rather than the exception. The books say this blooms in May and into June with a smattering of flowers later but the new growths, which show flower buds in the tips, start to grow in spring here and get burned off. Even so, it struggles on and new growth eventually prevails and this produces a smattering of flowers, over many months. So my main flowering period is June into July and there are still buds coming. In autumn, the leaves do change to yellow before dropping.

Eventually a shrub 1.5m high and wide, my plant really needs a prune to shape it. This is best done after the main flowering period. But I am reluctant to cut any growth off since it has had such a tough time of it. Maybe I will wander past with the secateurs in my hands and do the deed one day soon.

Tolerant of clay soils, acid or alkaline, and sun or part shade, this is an interesting shrub. If I had room for just ten shrubs it would not get a look in but It is attractive and the large leaves provide an interesting texture. It is supposed to dislike windy sites but mine is in a very windy spot, though it will get less so as surrounding shrubs grow, and it copes. These photos hardly flatter this shrub but do show what it can do in less than perfect conditions and show what a tough plant it can be. I admire its stoic nature and hope that one year the weather will be kind to it and it can really show what it is capable of.

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7 Comments on “Calycanthus ‘Hartlage Wine’”

  1. Meriel
    August 7, 2021 at 1:37 pm #

    Delighted to get all that info on Calycanthus as it has been on my wish list for a while. Having second thoughts now re the wind factor! I’d have to be very careful where I planted it. I wonder would the deer be a problem?

    • thebikinggardener
      August 8, 2021 at 8:37 am #

      From what I can tell it is resistant to deer. The leaves have a rough texture and they are aromatic so I can’t see they would be that palatable – US sources say it is deer-proof. Although it is supposed to prefer a sheltered spot the wind does not seem to be a huge problem so, if there is surrounding vegetation it is worth a try.

  2. Paddy Tobin
    August 12, 2021 at 2:05 pm #

    This is one we don’t grow here but we have taken note of plants in Lismore Castle Gardens and they seem to have had flowers for months on end now, though only a few flowers. They also had a white-flowered variety in flower during this week.

  3. Paddy Tobin
    August 14, 2021 at 9:07 am #

    Unfortunately, there was no label – despite a search!

  4. summercloud
    September 4, 2021 at 1:54 pm #

    I’m reading back-posts now and I have this too! I also have this exact cultivar. I live only an hour from the JC Raulston Arboretum, although I’ve somehow only visited once–maybe they have limited hours and that’s stopped me from going more often? I must have got my plant at a local Botanical Garden sale as they certainly aren’t offered at bigger stores here. It’s been in a pot for years and so hardly grows but also doesn’t shrink. I’ll move it to my backyard soon but I need to think about how much it’ll sucker, how much I’ll bother to control it, and how much space to give it.

    I see the wild species around town every so often. I’m told you should never buy one without smelling the flowers as some individuals smell lovely and some awful. I suppose getting a cultivar eliminates that chance though!

    • thebikinggardener
      September 5, 2021 at 5:29 pm #

      That is interesting that you are so close to the JC Raulston Arboretum. It must be an interesting place to visit. I know how it is with places close by – I tend not to go unless we have visitors – and we havent had many of those lately. I am not sure ho bad the suckering is. I have not noticed any on mine but it is only 3 years old. I have been interested by the discussion of fragrance of the species because I always remember it smelling of vinegar. Thank you for reading back posts!

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