The calicantus, or calicanto, is a very particular perennial plant, which has the characteristic of blooming in winter, showing delicate golden flowers with an intense scent.
Its botanical name is Chimonanthus, it belongs to the family of the Calycanthaceae and its name comes from the Greek “keimon”, which means winter and “anthos”, flower and means, rightly, “winter flower”.
The calicantus is an evergreen plant with a shrub native to Asia, which has quickly spread throughout Europe for the ease of cultivation and the intoxicating scent.
The calicantus can reach a height between the 1,5 and the 5 metres and is suitable both for decorating gardens and for the cultivation in pot, even if, in this case, the dimensions remain smaller. Its flowers are very perfumed and have a form of campanula.
There are different varieties of calicantus, which differ in height and characteristics of the flowers.
The most common and well-known are:
- Calycanthus praecox, the most common species in Italy, the one we often see decorating parks and public gardens. It can reach 2 m in height and has an erect and branched stem, large deciduous leaves and very fragrant yellow flowers with purple interior, which appear in mid-winter, even with very cold temperatures or frost.
- Calicantus campanulatus, the only species whose flowers do not smell. It has a height even of 3-5 m, persistent leaves and yellow flowers.
- Calicantus grammatus, with an imposing height, even 5 m, also with persistent leaves and yellow flowers.
- Calicantus nitens, a smaller species, with evergreen leaves and white or yellow flowers, which, however, bloom in autumn.
- Calycanthus floridus, the easiest to care for and very suitable for home cultivation. It is the only variety that does not flower in winter, but early summer and produces fragrant red flowers.
Calicantus: care and cultivation
The calicantus is really very easy to cultivate and does not require special cultural care and for this reason it is very suitable for young green thumbs, who have recently been trying their hand at gardening techniques.
It can also be planted in the garden as well as in pots, with the only trick to use very large and capacious containers, because the roots of the calicantus develop a lot, especially in depth.
Also know that a young calicantus takes some years before blossoming and, therefore, if you want to immediately enjoy its flowers, it is better to buy an already adult specimen in a trustworthy nursery.
For the rest, the needs of the calicantus are very few:
- The calicantus prefers a compact and clayey soil. Plant it in autumn, before the frosts, and prepare the soil with compost or pellet manure.
- Place it in full sun, because the plant needs a lot of light.
- It does not need much water and in the open air, the rains are sufficient, but water it when you see the soil too dry.
- Provide organic fertiliser in the autumn to promote flowering.
- The calicantus should not be pruned, otherwise there is a risk of preventing the natural development of the flowers and leaves, except for the removal of dry or damaged parts and a slight cleaning of the foliage.
The legend linked to the calicantus is very tender and poetic. It tells of a robin who, cooled by winter, wandered from tree to tree in search of protection and a hot nest, but was driven away from everyone. Only one calicantus was pitied by the small bird, now at the end of his strength, and gave him shelter and tried to warm him up with his bare branches.
Then God, to reward his generous gesture, made a rain of shining and perfumed stars fall from the sky and since then, every winter, the calicantus fills up with light and perfume, to remind everyone that good is always rewarded.
Precisely for this reason, in the language of flowers, the calicantus expresses comfort and protection and receiving a flowery branch serves to wish to overcome difficult moments and drive away negativity.