Lindera benzoin (wild allspice, spicebush, common spicebush, northern spicebush or Benjamin bush) is a flowering plant in the family Lauraceae, 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.
Spicebush is a small deciduous tree growing to 5 m (16 ft) tall, typically found only in the understory of moist forests and thickets. The leaves are alternate, simple, 6–15 cm (2–6 in) long and 2–6 cm (1–2 in) broad, oval or obovate and broadest beyond the middle of the leaf. They are very aromatic when crushed, hence the common names and the specific epithet benzoin. The yellow flowers grow in showy clusters which appear in early spring, before the leaves begin to grow. A ripe fruit is a red, berrylike drupe, rich in lipid, 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. The leaves, buds, and new growth twigs can be made into a tea.
Spicebush is a favorite food plant of two lepidopterous insects: the spicebush swallowtail Papilio troilus, and the promethea silkmoth, Callosamia promethea. 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.
Related or potentially confused species
- USDA, ARS, National Genetic Resources Program. Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN - Online Database). National Germplasm Resources Laboratory, Beltsville, Maryland. (24 July 2013)
- Flora of North America: Lindera benzoin
- Peterson, Lee Allen (1977). Edible Wild Plants. Houghton Mifflin Company. p. 208.
- Lindera benzoin at USDA PLANTS
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