Spicebush (Lindera benzoin) was one of the first native shrubs that I learned when I moved to Loudoun. We have it in various places just growing wild through our back yard area and I was curious about their bright red berries.
It turns out, Spicebush is a wetland plant that often grows alongside Sassafras in moist soils, stream banks, floodplains and swamp forests (which we love for all their amphibian habitats!). When I read about this the first time, it helped me put together clues about the habitat that ran through our back yard.
The flowers come out very early in spring, even before the leaves. As the flowers are pollinated, green berries start to take shape and can be seen on the plant through the summer. Then, just before the leave drop off, the berries take on their bright red color – a sure sign to the birds that food is here.
Spicebush is a really important wildlife plant. First, for the Spicebush and Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterflies, it provides food for the caterpillars. Spicebush is the host plant for this butterfly meaning that the caterpillar will eat this plant as it grows and transforms from caterpillar to chrysalis to beautiful butterfly. Learning this, I then understood why we had so many of this butterfly flying through our garden and forest area.
For mammals and birds, Spicebush provides cover and nesting sites. And then there are those beautiful red berries. They ripen in September and provide great nourishment to migrating and local birds.
Another interesting thing about this plant are that it is a member of the Laurel family and as such, it is remotely related to avocados, bay leafs, and cinnamon.