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.