Native Plant of the Month: Northern Spicebush

Northern Spicebush, Lindera benzoin of the Lauraceae (laurel) family, is a deciduous shrub with glossy leaves that can reach 6-15’ in size. Its native region includes eastern North America, ranging from Ontario and Maine in the north to Texas and northern Florida in the south. Spicebush has alternate, obovate leaves and is named for its spicy fragrant leaves and stems. This shrub is often found in the understory of deciduous forests, floodplains, and swampy areas. Spicebush can tolerate drier conditions in shade but requires consistent moisture levels in sunnier areas. 

Northern Spicebush blooms March to May. The flowers appear before the leaves, and the blooms are yellow, about ¼ inch wide, and bloom in clusters of about 3-6 per stem. Spicebush can be a great addition to a landscape. Ornamentally, its flowers are quite interesting; while not as showy, it can be a great native alternative to Forsythia. When growing in mass beneath a canopy Spicebush can put on quite the show in the Spring and flaunts golden yellow foliage in the fall. Female plants produce attractive berries that are also edible. In fact, the leaves and bark of Spicebush can also be used to make tea. Spicebush is dioecious, meaning male and female reproductive organs are in separate plants. If berries are the goal, having one male plant to several females is adequate for berry production.

Spicebush in bloom at Wellfield 4/6/23

Spicebush is one of the favorite host plants of Spicebush Swallowtail Papilio troilus. The caterpillars of this butterfly prefer Sweet Bay, Spicebush, and Sassafras as hosts, all of which belong to the Lauracea family. Spicebush berries are not only edible to humans but are eaten by over 20 species of birds as well as smaller mammals. 

Spicebush is a great addition to any garden, contributing ornamental value as well as ecological value. Here at Wellfield, there are numerous Spicebush throughout the gardens that are just starting to bloom, the most notable being the west promenade along the back of our campus. Next time you visit us, keep a lookout for their delicate, yellow blooms. Stay tuned for next month’s featured native plant!

Kyle Strain
Lead Horticulturist

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