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Also known as “wild allspice,” spicebush is a graceful, aromatic, fast-growing shrub that is gorgeous in every season and has a high wildlife value. In April, before leaves emerge, lemon-colored puffs of tiny, fragrant flowers line the branches, giving it the nickname, “forsythia of the wilds.” Glossy, green leaves emerge after the flowers, followed by red, edible drupes on female plants in August-September that are quickly consumed by birds and mammals. In fall, the golden leaves are a striking contrast with the remaining red fruits.


These shrubs are found throughout rich or dry forests, wooded slopes, stream banks, and swampy areas. Ecologists refer to spicebush as a “facultative wetland” plant, meaning it usually occurs in wetlands, though it also thrives in non-wetlands. This makes it an obvious choice for rain gardens and moist areas that may dry between rains. Beautiful naturalized in woodlands, and massed along streams and ponds. Both male and female plants are needed in close proximity to produce berries.


Plant Characteristics:

Most commonly reaches 6-8’ tall and wide, but can grow much larger in the wild in the right conditions.


Grows in full to part sun but tolerates full shade. Flower production and fall color are best in sunny sites.


Prefers loamy, well-drained soil but is adaptable to alkaline, acid, sandy, loamy, and clay soils with a wide range of moisture conditions, including consistently moist and well drained, occasionally saturated, and occasionally dry.


Medium-green leaves are egg shaped and have lighter undersides and smooth margins.


Single or multi-stemmed trunk has brownish-gray bark that is speckled with lenticels.


Wildlife Value:

Host plant to 12 species of Lepidoptera in central Ohio, including the spicebush swallowtail, whose larva is a green snake mimic that hides inside curled leaves, and the spotted apatelodes moth (note the caterpillar's signature red “sneakers’), and one specialist that feeds exclusively on spicebush: the macramé moth. The nectar and pollen attract early pollinators, and the fruits, which are nearly 50% fat, are a healthy meal for migrating and other birds, such as vireos, tanagers, robins, thrushes, and blue jays. The leaves, twigs, and bark are consumed by white-tail deer, rabbits, opossums, and small rodents.


Medicinal, Edible, and Other Uses:

Oil from the pressed fruits has been used as a liniment for sore muscles and joints.


The common names refer to the spicy and peppery scent and taste of the leaves, drupes, and stems. Native Americans used the dried-and-powdered fruits as a spice and the leaves and twigs for tea.


The aromatic fruits are sometimes dried and used in sachets.

Spicebush, Lindera benzoin

SKU: 164
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