Signs of Spring: Spicebush

Here’s a flower that’s one of the first signs of spring in Pennsylvania’s woods and it’s blooming right now.

Northern spicebush (Lindera benzoin) is a native shrub, 6-12 feet tall, that grows in moist locations in woods, valleys and along streams.

In March and early April its small yellow flowers bloom, clustered on the stems before the leaves emerge.  There are so many flowers that the bushes look showy in our otherwise brown landscape.  Don’t be fooled by this close-up, though.  The flowers are quite tiny.

Spicebush is the host plant for the Spicebush Swallowtail, a beautiful butterfly whose caterpillar form looks funny with a huge, fake face “painted” on its back.  You can find these caterpillars eating spicebush leaves in the summer.  (Click here to see.)

By fall the flowers have become small red berries, called drupes, which provide good food for birds.  Robins and catbirds are particularly fond of them.

When you’re out in the woods, look for spicebush.  You can identify it by smell — that’s how it got its name.  Just run your fingernail along the bark and smell it’s spicy, aromatic scent.

(photo by Marcy Cunkelman)

6 thoughts on “Signs of Spring: Spicebush

  1. Kate, I am so enjoying reading all your posts. In southeastern Ohio, we have a bush that is called a spicebush. The flowers on it are a pinkish purple. They aren’t blooming yet, but are also one of the first things to bloom in the spring.

  2. Very familiar with spicebush. It smells like the Allspice you use at Thanksgiving 🙂 The berries can make a jam, the leaves a tea. The Native Americans chomped flat one end of a twig and used it as a toothbrush. Very plentiful on the hillsides in city parks.

  3. M Yontz, I have a shrub called the Carolina Allspice and it has the kind of blossoms you described…smells like grapes/strawberries to me…if you can find the older shrubs, they seem to have more smell….these bloom later in the spring.

    Can’t imagine chomping on the Spicebush…and depending on your smell, some people smell the spicy scent or sometimes to me…cat pee…(boxwood is the same for me.)

  4. Thanks Marcy! I bet you are right on the name. Grandma always commented on the “spice” bushes. She passed away almost 14 years ago, so she may have always said allspice and I just remember the spice. hahaha I do know these bushes grow wild all over the hillsides around here and they are very pretty in the spring.

  5. Just love the scents and blooms of spring. Thanks for posting the lovely Spicebush, Kate and thanks Marcy for having so many lovely photos of everything from flowers, butterflies, to birds (and more!!).
    By the way, gals and guys, if you’re walking in the woods looking for all the buds and blooms and birds, be careful–the ticks are out there already and from what I’ve been told by several people really active!!

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