Unlike other native shrubs and trees that have become the darlings of nationwide advertising campaigns, Florida anise-tree (Illicium floridanum) struggles to achieve widespread interest. This shade-adapted understory shrub can be found growing naturally in shaded, moist to wet areas where it can reach a compact height and width of 6 to 10 ft. Its 2 to 6-inch long olive-green leaves reminiscent of rhododendron foliage, are extremely fragrant when crushed (or accidentally mowed), emitting a delicious anise scent.
This month Florida anise-tree bursts into bloom with 1- to 2-inch wide star-shaped, maroon-red flowers comprised of 20 to 30 strap-like petals. Like colorful pin wheels, these flowers are pretty, but have an unappealing fragrance. OK, full disclosure: the flowers smell like rotting fish – but not all of the flowers. Over the years I have sniffed many Florida anise-tree flowers (no, I’m not attracted to the fetid aroma of decomposing fish) in a quest to find flowers that possess a more pleasing fragrance. The closest I’ve come are a handful of flowers that lack any scent.
The flowers give rise to interesting-looking ridged, star-like fruit that turn from green to yellow and then to brown.
In addition to these aesthetic features, Florida-anise offers durability, low maintenance, and freedom from pests. If you have shady, moist nooks in your landscape, consider this broad-leaved evergreen shrub that looks best when planted en masse. Besides red flowers, there are a few other cultivars that have white flowers, such as ‘Alba’ and ‘Semmes,’ Thayer' Shady Lady® with pink flowers and grayish-white-margined leaves, and ‘Pink Frost’ with burgundy-red flowers and foliage that’s its namesake: variegated creamy-white leaves that turn pink-rose in cool fall weather. This combination of beauty and functionality has made Florida-anise a celebrity in my landscape.