How to Grow and Care for Spicebush

This aromatic shrub is gorgeous in every season

Spicebush shrub with bare branches and small yellow flower clusters

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Spicebush is an eye-catching native shrub that grows fast, adding about one to two feet annually. Spicebush grows about 6 to 12 feet tall. It is low-maintenance and can grow as a perennial in all parts of the continental U.S., although it grows natively along the eastern part of the country. Spicebush care is straightforward; give it fertilizer twice a year and keep the soil moist.

Also commonly known as northern spicebush and Benjaminbush, spicebush is an aromatic shrub that has interest almost year-round. It is deciduous, losing its leaves in the fall. Its most attractive characteristics are its yellow flowers in the spring, swallowtail butterflies in the summer, and plump red berries in the fall. Its 2 to 6-inch bright green leaves are alternating, with whitish coloring underneath them.

As its name suggests, spicebush leaves and twigs give off a spicy fragrance and flavor when crushed. Native Americans traditionally used spicebush as a medicinal tea made from the plant's bark. Its berries have a mild allspice flavor and can be eaten cooked or raw. Its bark can pass for a mild cinnamon substitute when dried and crushed. Although a spicebush benefit is its spicy characteristic, it is not widely commercially available. Regardless, modern foragers use it in their recipes.

As a native plant, it is not invasive or an aggressive grower. Read on to learn how to grow spicebush in your garden and enjoy this showy shrub year-round.

Spicebush Characteristics
Common Name Spicebush, northern spicebush, Benjaminbush
Botanical Name Lindera benzoin
Family Lauraceae
Plant Type Shrub
Mature Size 6-12 ft. tall
Sun Exposure Full, Partial
Soil Type Moist, Well-drained
Soil pH Neutral to Acidic
Bloom Time Spring
Flower Color Yellow
Hardiness Zones 4-9 (USDA)
​Native Area North America

Spicebush Care

Native to the low woods, stream banks, and wetlands of the eastern United States and Canada, spicebush (Lindera benzoin) is an easy-to-grow shrub in the Lauraceae family. It is adaptable to a wide range of growing conditions. It can be grown in a container, at least started in one, but it is not the ideal growing environment for this shrub since it needs at least 8 to 12 feet of growing space.

Spicebush is dioecious, meaning male and female flowers are on separate plants. Male spicebush grows clusters of yellow-green flowers in the spring. Female spicebush can be easily identified by the bright red berries that adorn the bush in the late summer months. When it's not in bloom, spicebush leaves are deep green during summer and golden-yellow in fall. Both plants are needed for female plants to be pollinated and produce berries.

Spicebush is a host plant for spicebush swallowtail butterflies whose larvae feed on it. Spicebush swallowtails are not a spicebush pest since this bush is resilient to pests.

Spicebush shrub with yellow and green leaves in wooded area

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Spicebush shrub branch with small yellow-green flower clusters closeup

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Spicebush shrub branch with light green leaves closeup

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Spicebush shrub with green and yellow leaves

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Light

Spicebush grows best in full sun to partial shade conditions. While it can technically survive in full shade, the growth habit will become more "leggy" or straggly looking. The stems grow longer because the plant is trying to stretch its leaves toward the light.

Soil

Spicebush naturally grows in wetlands, thriving in moist, well-draining soils. It tolerates both alkaline and acidic soils well.

Water

During the first growing season, spicebush should be watered regularly to help it establish a strong root system. Once established, spicebush usually does not require extra watering outside the regular rainfall in its growing zones. It is widely considered an adaptable shrub and can tolerate a wide range of moisture conditions, including short periods of dry or very wet soil. 

Temperature and Humidity

Spicebush is native to the Americas and is hardy in USDA zones 4-9. It is accustomed to cold winters, warm springs, and mild to hot summers; however, thanks to its adaptable nature, it can tolerate various conditions. It grows rapidly in wet conditions and accepts humid conditions more readily than overly dry conditions.

Fertilizer

Spicebush should be fertilized twice during each growing season. Fertilize in the early spring and then again in midsummer. Use a fertilizer specifically formulated for deciduous shrubs for the best results. 

Types of Spicebush

At least three cultivars of spicebush have been developed, although they are not widely available for purchase.

  • Lindera benzoin ‘Rubra’: Male cultivar characterized by red flowers
  • Lindera benzoin ‘Xandthocarpa’: Female cultivar characterized by yellow-orange berries
  • Lindera benzoin ‘Green Gold’: Male cultivar with large ornamental flowers

Pruning

Spicebush does not require heavy pruning, and pruning is usually only for aesthetic reasons and to help it maintain its shape. The best time to prune spicebush is after the shrub has finished flowering in the spring.

How to Grow and Propagate Spicebush

Although it can be grown from seed relatively easily, spicebush is not as easily propagated otherwise. It can be successfully grown from softwood cuttings, although successful propagation can be challenging. Choose a piece of healthy stem 2 to 6 inches long with at least two leaves on end.

Softwood is the growth stage of a deciduous woody plant that is part of the stem between the new, green growth at the end of a shoot and the stiff, woody growth near the base of the stem. The softwood lies between the two. Cut midway between both, on an angle. The best time to take softwood cuttings for spicewood propagation is summer or fall (July through September). Here are the steps for propagating via cutting:

  1. You'll need sterilized pruning snips, a potting mix, a clean pot, and rooting hormone.
  2. Dip the cut end of the stem in the rooting hormone.
  3. Plant the cutting in a moistened mixture of perlite and soilless mix. Keep the plant moist throughout the rooting process.
  4. Softwood cuttings need high humidity to sprout roots, so keep the newly potted softwood cutting in a plastic bag to create a humid environment until roots develop. Use a pencil, dowel, or chopstick to prop the bag up without touching the leaves at the end. Open the bag daily, offering an hour of fresh air.
  5. It can take about six weeks for the stem cutting to produce roots. Transplant once you notice new growth emerging from the stem.

How to Grow Spicebush From Seed

Fresh seeds are best when it comes to growing spicebush from seed. Fortunately, the berries that adorn the female plants contain their seeds, so if you have a female spicebush, it is easy to source seeds for growing new plants.

Harvest the berries in the late summer or fall once they have turned red and remove the seed from the inside. Sow the seeds immediately after harvesting them in a pot or the garden bed. Germination will occur in the spring of the following year.

Common Pests and Plant Diseases

Spicebush is usually resistant to pests and plant diseases. However, since 2002, with the introduction of the invasive redbay ambrosia beetle (Xyleborus glabratus Eichhoff) from Asia, spicebush has become susceptible to laurel wilt. It is a fungal disease caused by Raffaelea lauricola, affecting many laurel plants.

When infected, the plant's leaves wilt suddenly, and the sapwood appears blackened, killing the plant. Upon its discovery, pull it up and discard it to reduce its spread to other plants.

Common Problems With Spicebush

This shrub grows naturally in the U.S. Its secure place in the ecosystem keeps it in check, not growing invasively. It resists pests and diseases and is a host plant for swallowtail butterflies that help pollinate this plant. Its most significant threats are non-native diseases and pests.

Leaf Wilt, Discolored Bark

As a member of the laurel family, spicebush is susceptible to laurel wilt, a fungal disease introduced from Asia. It causes leaves to wilt suddenly and blackens the trunk and stems. No cure exists for this disease. Immediately pull up the plant and discard it. Do not compost it.

Slow Growth

Spicebush prefers a sunny spot for flowering and thicker growth. When it gets too much shade, its flower production suffers, and it won't grow densely, appearing more straggly. Also, keep the soil moist, or leaves will drop, leading to certain plant death.

Leaf Drop

Spicebush is a deciduous bush. It will enter dormancy as the temperatures drop, losing its leaves in the late fall or early winter. If spicebush has unseasonal leaf drop, look for signs of laurel wilt, such as darkening or fungal growth on the stems, trunk, and leaves.

FAQ
  • How fast does spicebush grow?

    Spicebush grows 1 to 2 feet per year in optimal conditions. If it is located in a heavy shade, expect a significantly slower rate.

  • Is a male and female bush required for reproduction?

    Spicebush buses are either male or female. Both have flowers; however, the female is the only one to produce fruits. If you want the female plant to produce berries, you need one of each (and pollinators to fertilize the female plants).

  • Which animals eat spicebush?

    White-tailed deer, rabbits, and opossums are known to eat the stems and leaves of spicebush, and many bird species eat the berries when they ripen.

  • How do I keep spicebush small in my garden?

    Cut back the large branches of the shrub occasionally to keep the spicebush small. You can cut it back all the way to the ground, and it will come back as a collection of stems.

Article Sources
The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Voigt, Charles E. “Elder and Other Native Herbal Shrubs and Trees.” University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, n.d. https://jhawkins54.typepad.com/files/voigt_herbal-uses-for-native-trees-and-shrubs.3.pdf.

  2. Spicebush is also affected by laurel wilt disease. USDA Forest Service.