The sweet shrub can tolerate clay soils, but it does best in rich loam. The opposite leaves grow to 6 inches long and 3 inches wide and are dark green on top and pale green and fuzzy underneath. In the autumn they turn a bright golden yellow. When they’re crushed they give off a pleasant fragrance, which is why many gardeners like to plant the sweet shrub around entrances and outdoor living areas like patios.
The plant is famous for its unusual flowers. For one thing, they are brown or the brownish red of port wine. They resemble magnolia flowers, are profuse and have a smell that many people describe as a combination of strawberries, pineapples and bananas. Some people say the flowers even smell like bubblegum. They appear at the ends of the branches from April to July, and the shrub should be pruned right after the flowers fade to help it keep its compact shape. Left to themselves, the flowers turn into urn-shaped seed capsules that become mature in autumn and persist on the plant through the winter.
The unusual flowers last a long time on the shrub and can be cut for arrangements. They can also be dried and added to potpourri. In fact, every part the sweet shrub is fragrant and can be added to potpourri, including the twigs. The bark was once used as a substitute for cinnamon, and another name for the shrub is the Carolina allspice.