|Range within North America|
Lindera benzoin, commonly called spicebush, common spicebush, northern spicebush wild allspice, or Benjamin bush) is a shrub in the laurel family, native to eastern North America, ranging from New York to Ontario in the north, and to Kansas, Texas, and northern Florida in the center and south. Within its native range it is a relatively common plant where it grows in the understory in moist, rich woods, especially those with exposed limestone.
Spicebush is a deciduous shrub growing to 6–12 feet (1.8–3.7 m) tall. It has a colonial nature and often reproduces by root sprouting, forming clumps or thickets. The leaves are alternately arranged on the stem, simple, 6–15 cm (2–6 in) long and 2–6 cm (1–2 in) broad, oval or broadest beyond the middle of the leaf. They have a smooth edge with no teeth and are dark green above and paler below. The leaves, along with the stems are very aromatic when crushed with a spicy, citrusy smell, hence the common names and the specific epithet benzoin. In the fall the leaves turn a very bright and showy yellow color.
The yellow flowers grow in showy clusters which appear in early spring, before the leaves begin to grow. The flowers have 6 sepals and a very sweet odor. The ripe fruit is a red, elipsoidal, berrylike drupe, rich in lipids, about 1 cm (1⁄2 in) long and is eaten by several bird species. It has a "turpentine-like" taste and aromatic scent, and contains a large seed. Spicebush is dioecious (plants are either male or female), so that both sexes are needed in a garden if one wants drupes with viable seeds.
Like other dioecious plants, the female plants have a greater cost of reproduction compared to the male plants. In the wild, the population tends to have more males than females possibly due to the heavier reproductive costs on females.
The stem of L. benzoin has a slightly rough, but flat, bark which is covered in small, circular lenticels which give it a rough texture.
Related or potentially confused species
Other species in the Lindera genus also have common names containing the word "spicebush" and may appear similar. An example is Lindera melissaefolia which grows in swamps in southern US; it is differentiated by its hairy stems. Calycanthus (sweetshrub, spicebush) is in a different family within the Laurales and also has aromatic leaves.
Spicebush is often cultivated in gardens or edges of gardens. The brightly colored fruits and early flowers along with the spherical growth form make the plant desirable in gardens. It is hardy in USDA zones 4-9 and tolerates shade excellently but will also grow in full sun. When grown in sun the plant tends to grow denser and have more berries and flowers compared to growing in shade or partial shade. It is best to grow the plant from seed as its extensive rootsystem does not handle transplanting well. At least three cultivars have been developed although they are rarely available:
- 'Rubra' has brick red male flowers, the winter buds are also a darker red brown color. Since it is male it produces no fruit.
- 'Xanthocarpa' has yellow-orange fruits that was discovered in Arnold Arboretum in 1967 by Alfred Fordham.
- 'Green gold' a male, non-fruiting cultivar with larger ornamental flowers.
Although several butterflies and moths used spicebush as a host, they are not considered a serious pest.
Many animals feed on the leaves, twigs, and berries of spicebush. Some mammals include whitetail deer, Eastern cottontail rabbit, opossums. Over 20 species of birds including both gamebirds and song birds such as ring-necked pheasant, bobwhite, ruffed grouse and others have been known to feed on spicebush. The berries are a favorite food of wood thrushs.
Lepidopteran host plant
The larvae of the spicebush swallowtail are easily found inside leaves that have been folded over by the application of silk; small larvae are brown, resembling bird droppings, and mature larvae are green. The anterior of a larvae has two large eyespots and resembles the head of a snake. Since one or more broods (generations) of spicebush swallowtails typically occur each year, spicebush is a useful plant for the butterfly garden, since the egg-laying females are strongly attracted to it. Promethea moth cocoons, if present, are obvious during the cold season after leaf drop, and resemble dead leaves still hanging from twigs. Neither of these insects is ever present in sufficient quantities to defoliate a medium through large spicebush, although very small specimens may suffer even from a single caterpillar.
- Flora of North America: Lindera benzoin
- Peterson, Lee Allen (1977). Edible Wild Plants. Houghton Mifflin Company. p. 208.
- Lindera benzoin at USDA PLANTS
- USDA, ARS, National Genetic Resources Program. Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN - Online Database). National Germplasm Resources Laboratory, Beltsville, Maryland. (24 July 2013)
- Dirr, Michael A (1990). Manual of woody landscape plants. (4. ed., rev. ed. ed.). Champaign, Illinois: Stipes Publishing Company. ISBN 0-87563-344-7.
- "SPICEBUSH PLANT GUIDE" (PDF). Retrieved 25 July 2016.
- Peterson, George A. Petrides ; illustrations by George A. Petrides, Roger Tory (1986). A field guide to trees and shrubs : northeastern and north-central United States and southeastern and south-central Canada (2nd ed. ed.). Boston: Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 0-395-13651-2.
- "Great Design Plant: Lindera Benzoin Offers 3-Season Interest". Retrieved 25 July 2016.
- Brand, Mark. "Plant Database". hort.uconn.edu. Retrieved 25 July 2016.
- Rhoads, Ann; Block, Timothy. The Plants of Pennsylvania (2 ed.). Philadelphia Pa: University of Pennsylvania press. ISBN 978-0-8122-4003-0.
- Martin, Cipollini; Whigham, Dennis (1994). "Sexual dimorphism and cost of reproduction in the dioecious shrub Lindera benzoin (Lauraceae)". American Journal of Botany. 81: 65–75. JSTOR 2445564.
- Cipollini, Martin L.; Wallace-Senft, Dorothy A.; Whigham, Dennis F. (September 1994). "A Model of Patch Dynamics, Seed Dispersal, and Sex Ratio in the Dioecious Shrub Lindera Benzoin (Lauraceae)". The Journal of Ecology. 82 (3): 621. doi:10.2307/2261269.
- "Lindera benzoin 'Rubra' - Red Flowered Common Spicebush - Broken Arrow Nursery". www.brokenarrownursery.com. Retrieved 25 July 2016.
- "BRIT - Native American Ethnobotany Database". naeb.brit.org. Retrieved 25 July 2016.
- "Butterflies in Your Backyard NC State University". content.ces.ncsu.edu. Retrieved 26 July 2016.
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