Friday, June 10, 2011

The Sweet Bubby Bush-The Little Known Story About It

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Gardening is such an amazing activity. I think if you lived three lives you could never know all there is to know about plants. That being said I am trying my hardest to learn! Learning  comes from a number of places; blogging, friends, families, books, experimentation, professional shows, lectures, organizations and just about everywhere. When I learn from special people or people close to me it is always a lesson I will remember. One such lesson was taught to me by my husband's family.


A few years ago we were watching a video of Mr. Fix-it's grandmother. Mr. Fix-it's grandmother lives in Washington State and is probably at least 85 but she still gardens. I hear she is under five feet tall and a force to be reckoned with. As she was videotaping her garden she came upon her 'SWEET BUBBY BUSH' and began to jump up and down with the camera. "There's my sweet bubby bush! I managed to fit one in and itsa bloomin!" Mr. Fix-it's grandmother is originally from the mountains of North Carolina along the Tennessee border. If you are from that area you are most definitely familiar with sweet bubbie bushes and the kind of unique accent people from this area have (not knocking the southerners here now you know-I'm from Maine and that accent can be a bit unique too!).


I asked my father in law what in the world was a SWEET BUBBY BUSH and he very jocularly asked me "You don't know what a sweet bubbie bush is?!" Well, I was about to get my lesson about gardening right then and there. 

This is the lesson about the SWEET BUBBY BUSH, aka Calycanthus floridus, or also known as Sweetshrub, Carolina allspice, Sweet Bubby bush, Strawberry bush, and probably many more names. Church is very important to folks and the people of the mountains of North Carolina are no exception. They go to church faithfully every single chance they can get and always have. Therein lies the story. While most, if not all, churches are now equipped with air conditioners back a few generations this was not always the case. Summers in the south and in the mountains of North Carolina can get very hot. Nonetheless church is still in session-all year long every week. Sitting in a hot stifling church for a few hours listening to a sermon can really bring out the-ahem-worst in people as in body odor. It gets hot, we sweat and we sometimes stink. It's just the way it is. Thank goodness for air conditioners! To combat the problem of body odor it seems women would pick the fragrant blooms of the sweetshrub and place those same blooms in their bras under their breasts. As they sweat the odor of the bloom would come out and mask the body odor. Most of these blooms smell like strawberries or strawberries and bananas so the scent was not altogether unpleasant and the bloom really helped to solve a problem. That is the story of the SWEET BUBBY BUSH but there is more.

My theory on where the nickname SWEET BUBBY comes from is only a theory and my theory only. I surmise that the word BUBBY is a friendlier or more acceptable word for BOOBY-as in breasts. Polite folks, and southerners do polite the best I've seen anywhere, do not say the word breast or booby anywhere so bubby is a great substitute. Now I can't find any proof to back up my theory though I tried. Not only did I try but so did my father in law. He went so far as to call in to the local radio show to ask if anyone knew where the nickname of SWEET BUBBY came from; with no response. We canvassed nurseries and asked a lot of folks if they knew where that name came from and none did. If they did they weren't admitting to it. But, being the YANKEE that I am, I have no problem with sharing my theory on the SWEET BOOBY BUBBY BUSH....


in the garden....

The above picture is of one of my Sweet Bubby bushes. It is a new purchase from Nashville Natives. The cultivar is 'Athens'. This cultivar has a distinct strawberry/banana scent and I purchased it in bloom for that very reason. You must buy these sweetshrubs in bloom because that is the only way you'll know you are getting one with a good scent. I also attempt to grow the red flowered sweetshrub. The red flowered ones are more common and you'll find them easier. I am not having luck with my sweetshrubs much to my chagrin. While I believe this is a woodland plant it is probably an edge of the woodland plant and needs more sun than it receives here. My good friend Naomi has a spectacular red flowered sweetshrub that grows in full sun. It's a beauty indeed and all sweetshrubs are nice additions to the natural garden. Mine are extra special to me due to the family connection and the lesson my father in law taught me about the sweetshrub.
Words and Photos Property of In the Garden Blog Team, In the Garden

32 comments:

  1. Hi Tina, this is my favourite sort of post, not just about plants but about the relationship between people and plants. You got me thinking about the origin of all the different common names of plants - they must all have stories if we only knew them.

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  2. Catmint, Thanks. I could not find any anecdotal evidence that this is why Sweet Bubby is called sweet bubby but knowing NC and how the dialect goes I thought it likely and important. I just love the story of plants and try to learn those connections too-like you.

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  3. I am always learning new plants from you each time I visited your blog. Not really familiar with flowers, although I began to have interest in it since not only adding beautiful colours in the garden but beneficial to attract predators to save our vegetables.

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  4. That is a riot. I love your story...makes sense to me. :-) I keep looking at the Calycanthus, but do not have one .....yet!

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  5. Oh my goodness girl, you have me rolling in my chair with laughter this morning! What a Hoot! This story is priceless and I will forever remember this one! Being a gal from the South, I do agree with your theory. You may be from the North (Maine) but you are learning the way of the South girl. LOL. I will be sharing this story with many as I just love it….,

    Thanks for the giggles this am and have a great weekend!!!

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  6. That is such a cute story, I just love it and it is a very pretty flower. I however disagree on you being a YANKEE....You may have been mostly brought up in yankee country but you turned into a southern gal. So the way I look at it, you have both in you. What a combination!!!! Can it get any better than that? Probably not!!!!!!

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  7. Good Morning {still, I think}.
    Tina that is one cute post. Had me ROFLOL. I love it. Since being in N.C. for a spell I can relate to this wonderful plant. But I never heard that story. Priceless.
    I too, like Skeeter, will be telling this story to many. {Maybe today, as us old folks will be eating together {at D-in-L's} to help out on a good cause}. Yummy, chicken dinner. It will be delivered to us personally. HeHeHe.
    Have a very good weekend all.

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  8. It has been a while since I read this post since it has been on the back burner for like-years. But now that I am reading it I agree it is a hoot but ever so true-you southerners know it!

    Mom, Not truly a southerner until someone from the north comes down here and says to me they are from the north and then, like a true southerner I must immediately let them know why we (the South) shoulda won that durned war between the north and the south... I haven't hit that spot-yet but do truly love my adopted part of the country.

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  9. Back when life was less complicated, we tied ripe Sweetshrub blossoms in the corner of a handkerchief and carried them to school. I never heard them called Sweet Bubie. I still don't think they smell like strawberries, but it is a fruity aroma.

    DH's aunt's husband carried a blossom in his shirt pocket because he liked the fragrance.

    I have Calycanthus species in part shade.

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  10. Tina, That's what I like about Mainers--they tell it like it is. I started with the Asian sweetshrub (Sinocalycanthus). It grows in full shade, has beautiful pink flowers, and no scent. Then I got the cross between the American and the Asian 'Hartlage Wine'. I grow this in part shade--it has spectacular long lasting deep maroon flowers and no scent--one of the most beautiful shrubs in my garden. This year I planted the native cultivar 'Michael Lindsey' because it was guaranteed to have a beautiful fragrance. Maybe it takes a year but I haven't noticed any fragrance. Great post. Carolyn

    P.S. I noticed there were actual picks on your post!!! so I have my fingers crossed.

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  11. Well, your supposition makes perfect sense. I had one, with no scent, and didn't know there were Asian ones until I read Carolyn's comment. I bought it as a native, but mailorder, so you know... Anyway, I've just bought two more. They haven't bloomed for me yet. I hope they have that scent I've heard so much about! Might need to put one in between my bubby when I start sweating!

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  12. This was a fun and interesting post! Your theory makes sense to me. I'm not sure I've ever seen a Sweet Bubby bush, but you said she lived in Washington state so they must grow here.

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  13. Ha, that is too funny. You might be close to the truth since no one wants to fess up... lol ;)

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  14. My grandmother also called the calycanthus Sweet Bubby. She tied the buds in a hanky and put them in her cleavage!

    Last week, the bluegrass band was practicing here. The mandolin player asked if the fragrance in my garden came from a sweet betsy as it reminded him of his childhood. He said he put the buds in his pocket when he went to church....he's around 70 yrs old and a very Southern gentleman!

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  15. Cameron, Glad to hear some folks are still around to remember the days of sweet bubby and its relationship with churches. The shrubs sure can take many folks back. Thanks for validating my theory! Not sure where the Sweet Betsy name comes from though. I know the sweet bubby name for sure.

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  16. What a wonderful post. I love learning new, unusual facts about plants. This is such a funny story. Thank you for sharing it and the gorgeous photo of the bubby bush! :)

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  17. Hi Tina, what a fascinating story, amusing but maybe true. there are plants here also which have meanings on the history of their names. I think that is a good topic to ask bloggers for posting in a common sight. I will ask Autumn Belle or One to host it, haha.

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  18. Great post! This is one of my favorites. :o) Local names are always interesting. My FIL insists that the "correct" name for sedum is iceplant. I can't imagine walking around with a bunch of buds in my boobs. I might have a few bumps too many!!

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  19. Tina, what a great story. I think your theory is spot on as I also know that southern ladies have such manners and are so graceful that I am afraid to open my mouth in their presence lest my Chicago-minded mouth should say the wrong thing. Thanks for sharing! Great stuff!!!

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  20. Interesting post Tina! It makes sense that it would be a good shrub to disguise odors. As to the "how" and "where" I'll stay out of speculating!

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  21. That is a hoot, Tina! I recently came across a red spicebush bloom and fell in love! They resemble a magnolia somewhat...
    Hope you are having an awesome summer! Crazy busy sched. has prevented me from visiting alot of "FRIENDS" blogs but I'm glad I came across this one! Lynn ;D

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  22. Well, I learned something new once again today! I've never heard of this shrub before, but I love the story behind it. I always think of Scarlett O'Hara and her friends "glowing" in the heat, rather than perspiring. I always wondered how people of the past could stand to wear those long skirts and heavy petticoats. They must have had to use a lot of Sweet Bubby:)

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  23. We are from the SW Pa area. My great uncle just passed last week, and he would always have this blossom in his ash trays of his truck. None of us knew what it was called and I wanted to purchase a few in remembrance. The only thing my grandmother could tell me is how she would stuff them in her bra, and I couldn't really see contacting my local florists with such a description; however, Google immediately brought me to you. Now I know the plants name, as well as confirmation my grandmother doesn't just shove random flora in her bras. It's a sweet ending.

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  24. Anonymous, So happy to help out. It seems the Sweet Bubby bush has many sentimental memories for many of us. You'll have no problem finding it now and can remember your family in a wonderful way in the garden. Take care and thanks for your very nice comment and memories.

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  25. Tina,

    My grandmother grew these. She would sell the little clove blossoms to a lot of "church going" folks and to others that were going to be in large groups like tobacco festivals or county fairs.

    You are right in many of your theories. There is another aspect to the fragrance in the cleavage though. It was used to help with the odors of the ones using it, but also by placing it in the cleavage area the aroma comes up the chest into the nostrils of the wearer. It acted like the modern day noise covers. If there is music, humming, etc. close to you, it is harder to hear noise or voices further away. The Bubby Bush cloves keeps the wearer from smelling others.

    It was also planted near outhouses for the same reasons. My grandmother had them planted on each side of her outhouse. Just before entering, one or two would be picked, crushed slightly and rubbed under the nose.

    I wish I had tried to learn more from my grandmother, may she rest in peace and wonderful aromas.

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  26. Hi Anonymous, I enjoyed your comment about your grandmother and the sweetshrub very much. I don't guess I ever thought about it masking the other odors but you are so right as it would do the trick. Plants can be so fascinating in their connections with people and I bet your grandmother is smiling and happy and is and was very proud of you. You have some good memories of her.

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  27. as a teenager growing up in tennessee my mom would break a piece off and put it in my car when the temp would go up id have a lovely aroma. and she did put them in her pocket. I wish she was alive so i could ask her about the booby story but when i look at her bubbie bush (and all her other plants growing abundantly)she is still with me. Ill ask my 85 yr old aunt she knows alot about plants.. Keep you posted.

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    1. Stormy, Thanks! Come back and let me know please.

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  28. I am a horticulturist here in NC... I have always heard the same story as you related. However... The word Bubby is a British term for the bosom (or boobs)... The practice of using the Sweetshrub blooms in the cleavage - dates in Europe, to the Victorian era. BTW, the Sweetshrub is just now in full bloom this week in Hickory - North Carolina!!!
    ~Blair

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    1. Thanks Blair! I always appreciate insight into lore about plants and I knew 'bubby' had to come from somewhere. I bet Hickory is looking great this time of the year! My sweetshrub is also in bloom and I am loving it!

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  29. I am a Yankee who married a Southerner. Now I live in the mountains of North Carolina. In 2007 we purchased property that had been logged in 2002. We have let mother nature take her course with most of it and the Sweet Bubby bushes are naturally abundant here now. They have moved in along side of the rodadendrun, laurel, and blackberries- which makes me think they must like very acidic soil. (Ours is nasty red clay) Perhaps your sweet bubby would be happier if it had acidic soil. (I assume your is not).
    Sarah

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    1. Thank you Sarah! Welcome to the south! I too am a transplanted Yankee so we have something in common. Your property must be beautiful! To see all the laurels, rhododendrons, and sweet bubbys must be most enjoyable. They should be in bloom now or soon? Thanks for the tip on the bubby bushes. I think you are right they like acidic soils.

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