Spicebush

Lindera benzoin

Early April is a great time to go for a walk in the woods to look for the first signs of spring. If you look carefully, all sorts of woodland characters are quietly making an appearance. You’ll find that bloodroot, trout lily, twinleaf, hepatica and Dutchman’s breeches are already in bloom. In fact, many of these plants are even starting to set seed! The furious timing of spring wildflowers is no accident. These plants are in a race to complete their life cycle before the tree canopy fills in. Timing is everything!

There is a a common forest shrub that is in full bloom at the end of March and beginning of April. Spicebush is a small  tree that grows 5 to 10 feet high.  In early spring its branches are outlined in delicate yellow flowers. This is one of the earliest shrubs to bloom in the eastern U.S., and it is typically found in moist woodlands.

The yellow flowers of spicebush lack petals, so on closer inspection you’ll notice that that each flower is composed of just six sepals. Only the female plants have these conspicuous yellow flowers.

As the flowers fade, oblong leaves will appear. The leaves are alternate, entire (smooth edges) and grow to about five inches long at maturity; they are darker on top and lighter on the underside. Spicebush leaves are wonderfully aromatic (hence the name) so don’t miss the chance to crush some in your hand and see for yourself.

The plant puts on a second show in the fall, when beautiful red Spicebush berries ripen in September. These oblong berries are loaded with nutrients and are readily consumed by migrating birds and small mammals. Robins and other thrushes especially enjoy the berries, and many times I’ve witnessed flocks descending into the Spicebush thickets around my house to gorge on the fruit.

Click any photo to open the spicebush gallery.

4 thoughts on “Spicebush

  1. Gloria, thanks for your blog which has helped me identify plants from my hikes. I love trying to figure them out, but know I can always count on you for help. You told me about spicebush last year. Ready, set, HIKE ON! Best, Patty C in Roanoke

  2. I am so thrilled to find your blog. As a beginner, I find your photos are the most helpful of all I’ve seen in books or on line. They are beautiful. Many thanks!

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