Home of the Practically Perfect Pink Phlox and other native plants for pollinators

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Wildflower Wednesday: Spicebush

Lindera benzoin is one of the earliest blooming trees in my garden. I love how the sulphur yellow flowers  light up the dark corners of the woodland. It's a wonderful small understory tree and you'll find it on my list of perfect native plants that ought to be in more gardens.

What makes it a perfect plant?

It's easy peasy to grow. Spicebush's ideal habitat is a moist woodland with fertile, leaf covered soil in partial shade. You're more likely to see Spicebush growing in wooded bottom lands, low swamps, and also along streams in Eastern North America. But, don't let all the talk of moisture scare you off! Plant it in dappled shade, in good fertile soil that isn't xeric, mulch with leaf mold and it will flourish. Well established trees adjust to periods of drought in my garden just fine.

Spicebush near the Radnor Lake Visitor center
It's a good looking tree. Spicebush in bloom is especially lovely when the rest of your garden or the woodland is still brown. It's bright yellow flowers glow in the shade. Once the bloom is over the tree settles into its role as a host plant (see below). Come fall, Spicebush kicks back into gorgeousness when the leaves turn bright yellow.
You can't beat those bright yellow leaves

It has great wildlife value. The flowers are cross-pollinated by small bees, wasps, beetles and flies.
Early spring bloom draws a host of pollinator visitors
If pollinated the female plants form oval green drupes that ripen to a brilliant red in the fall and are eaten by dozens of different species of birds and small mammals. The drupes are high in the lipids and fats that migrating birds need to fuel their migration.~and not like the nutritionally worthless bush honeysuckles that have taken over our Middle Tennessee parks!
sexing the flowers~don't google that or you'll be in trouble!
Honestly, I had no drupes on my lone tree. Spicebush is "dioecious" which means that there are separate male and female plants, so, I planted two more last spring.
Let's hope that there is at least one male and female in the trio so those beautiful oval red drupes adorn the tree in September and make the birds and small mammals happy!

To continue shining the light on it's wildlife value, Lindera benzoin is the host plant for Spicebush Swallowtail butterfly. I love when she stops by the garden! I love all the butterflies that visit, but this one is striking. It has a black body dotted with white and shiny blue or green wings, with blue between two rows of orange spots on the underside of the hind wings and the colors on the upper side of the hind wings have one row of white spots.
To summarize, Lindera benzoin ought to be in more gardens. It's easy to care for, good looking and has great wildlife value...Don't go looking for fancy cultivars, as far as I know there are none. Seriously, a tree like this doesn't need to be "improved", it's already perfect!

Happy Wildflower Wednesday.

The Particulars:
Common Name: spicebush
Deciduous shrub in the Laurel family
Native Range: Eastern United States (including Texas)
Zone: 4 to 9
Size:  6.00 to 12.00 feet tall by  6.00 to 12.00 feet wide (so far much smaller in my garden)
Blooms in March in Middle Tennessee
Flowers are a greenish yellow and the golden yellow fall coloring is outstanding
Will grow in full sun to part shade. I think it's happiest in dappled sun unless the soil is always moist.
Can tolerate deer, drought, heavy shade, clay soil~In other words it's happy at Clay and Limestone!

Thank you for stopping by and welcome to Clay and Limestone's Wildflower Wednesday celebration. WW is about sharing and celebrating wildflowers from all over this great big, beautiful world. Join us on the fourth Wednesday of each month. Remember, it doesn't matter if they are in bloom or not; and, it doesn't matter if we all share the same plants. It's all about celebrating wildflowers. Please leave a comment when you add your url to Mr Linky.

Gail Eichelberger is a gardener and therapist in Middle Tennessee. She loves wildflowers and native plants and thoroughly enjoys writing about the ones she grows at Clay and Limestone. She reminds all that the words and images are the property of the author and cannot be used without written permission.


  1. I share my lemon tree with citrus swallowtails - large brown butterflies with generous yellow spots.

    1. today building chaos relieved by memories of March lilies

    2. Loved seeing the garden of your dreams for your new home!

  2. We had to remove our apple tree this year. While this made me very sad it is a planting opportunity. Thanks for reminding me of spicebush. I will look for one.

  3. I'll be joining in on Monday....I have young spicebushes that are still trying to get established...last year 2 bloomed and I hope I have a few that are of the right sex so I can see the fruit. I love how they go from yellow flowers in spring to yellow leaves in fall.

  4. Oh, I should certainly buy some of these! They sound wonderful!
    Happy Wildflower Wednesday!

  5. Spicebush is a wonderful plant and is host to a beautiful butterfly. I lost my plant in the winter of 2013-14. I need to replace it. I foresee a trip to The Arbor Gate, my local nursery.

  6. I am not familiar with the spicebush. It sure is a nice looking plant, and it is always good when a plant has benefit for birds and butterflies/caterpillars.

    I took some photos of plants that have come up. I may do a post on them. I like how you write yours with information about one or a few plants at a time.

    1. Thanks Sue, My goal is to educate folks about a plant so they will be inspired to try it! I love your posts, too. xo

  7. I have a spicebush but it didn't bloom last spring. I wonder if it needs more light, or just needs more time to settle in. It did bloom the year I bought it.

  8. I'd like to confirm it doesn't really need moist soil. I've got probably twenty on my hilltop property in anywhere from mostly sun to full shade. While the ones in full sun are taller, the ones in the shade are fairly full and not spindly at all. And it does get pretty dry sometimes. Needless to say, we have no shortage of swallowtails.

  9. Spicebush is one of my favorites, along with sassafras, which is in full flower now in our Piedmont garden.

  10. It's a beautiful shrub, Gail. And, as you say, so much wildlife value. Beautiful photos!

  11. I am sooooo glad you posted abou this tree. I saw it blooming in my garden the other day and wondered what the heck it was. You must have inspired me to plant it. I should have tagged it though. I need more I think. Beautiful tree. Great for wildlife.~~Dee

  12. I have got to plant one of these in my garden. The fall color alone would be reason.

  13. I've never seen one in person, but have often thought how nice it would be to have one. After all, I highly encourage butterflies to visit my garden. But I see I do not have the right siting for it, as my lot is bright and sunny with hard clay soil. Oh well!

  14. Hi Gail, sorry I'm so late this month in joining in. Hopefully better late than never.
    And I just love you Spice bush post, fascinating!

  15. I feel I've been away from the blogs forever. I enjoyed reading your informative post about spicebush. Never have grown it.

  16. Finally adding my wildflower for this month. Hope your weather is improving as these cold snaps are not good for our plants....we still are 80% covered here with snow and cold, but the forecast is looking up!

  17. I think we have some of these growing wild in our woods. I'm definitely going to have to look for those yellow flowers come spring! That will still be a few more weeks out up here..

  18. I need to find a place for a spicebush! I remember seeing it listed as a host plant on every butterfly list I've gotten; thanks for showcasing it, Gail, to show what a beauty it is, too.

  19. There is a lot to admire about this shrub, especially its value to wildlife, but I would plant it just for the fall color alone.


"Insects are the little things that run the world." Dr. E O Wilson