Blooms of the native shrub spicebush.

Spicebush blooms. Photo: Miri Talabac

Updated: May 9, 2023

About spicebush

Lindera benzoin
Deciduous shrub
Laurel family (Lauraceae)

Maryland Distribution: throughout the state; wooded understory and woods-edge habitat
Height: 6 to 12 feet tall
Flowers: yellow, in small clusters held against the twigs; late March into April; insect-pollinated (small bees, flies)
Fall color: yellow
Sun: part sun to shade
Soil: moist to wet; acidic and alkaline (pH adaptable)

Garden Uses: Spicebush is valuable in gardens for its shade tolerance and early-season color. A multi-stemmed deciduous shrub, it combines well with ferns and woodland wildflowers and spring ephemerals. Although it will tolerate a fair amount of sun and drier soils, an overlap in these conditions can stress the plant, slowing growth and increasing the risk of sunscorch.

Spicebush is a native alternative to forsythia for early spring interest in the semi-shaded garden, providing better wildlife value while needing less maintenance.

This is a dioecious species, meaning there are female and male flowers on separate plants. Pollinated female plants produce fruit: glossy scarlet-red berries ripen in autumn and are eagerly consumed by birds.

Stems and foliage have a spicy fragrance when cut or bruised. Flowers may also have a light sweet fragrance.

Very few cultivars exist for Spicebush, and nursery-grown plants are generally not identified as male or female (and may be too young to differentiate if not mature enough to flower).

Wildlife: The high-fat, high-energy berries support numerous birds (both migrants and residents) including Northern Bobwhite, Northern Flicker, Wood Thrush, Veery, Northern Cardinal, Gray Catbird, Great-crested Flycatcher, Eastern Kingbird, and Red-Eyed Vireo.

Spicebush foliage hosts Spicebush Swallowtail and Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterflies, plus Promethea Moth and several other moth species. Blooms support pollinators.

Blooms on a spicebush shrub.
Blooms can be very showy on some individuals. Photo: Miri Talabac
Ripe fruits on spicebush.
Ripe fruits. Photo: Miri Talabac
Growth habit of spicebush in mostly shade.
Spicebush growing in mostly shade. Photo: Miri Talabac
Growth habit of spicebush in partial sun.
Spicebush growing more densely in about a half-day of sun. Photo: Miri Talabac
Spicebush swallowtail caterpillar on spicebush foliage.
Spicebush Swallowtail caterpillar. Younger larvae resemble bird droppings and hide in folded-over leaves. Photo: Miri Talabac

Additional resource

Spicebush | Maryland Biodiversity Project gallery and distribution map


Compiled by: Miri Talabac, Horticulturist & Coordinator, Home & Garden Information Center. 2022

Still have a question? Contact us at Ask Extension.