This native shrub is eye-catching and low-maintenance. Also commonly known as northern spicebush and Benjaminbush, spicebush is an aromatic shrub that has interest almost year-round. Flowers in the spring, swallowtail butterflies in the summer and plump red berries in the fall are some of its most eye-catching features.
As its name suggests, spicebush leaves and twigs give off a spicy fragrance and flavor when crushed. In fact, spicebush was traditionally used by Native Americans as a medicinal tea. Its berries have a mild allspice flavor, and when dried and crushed its bark can pass for a mild cinnamon substitute. Despite this, spicebush is not widely commercially available and has no known commercial uses.
Learn how to grow spicebush in your garden and enjoy this showy shrub all year long.
|Botanical Name||Lindera benzoin|
|Common Name||Spicebush, northern spicebush, Benjaminbush|
|Plant Type||Deciduous shrub|
|Mature Size||6-12 feet tall|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun to partial sun|
|Soil Type||Moist, well-draining|
|Bloom Time||Early spring|
|Native Area||North America|
How to Grow Spicebush
Native to the low woods, stream banks, and wetlands of the eastern United States and Canada, spicebush (Lindera benzoin) is an easy-to-grow, deciduous shrub in the Lauraceae family. It is adaptable to a wide range of growing conditions and is low-maintenance once it is established.
Spicebush is dioecious, meaning male and female flowers are present on separate plants. Male spicebush grows clusters of yellow-green flowers in the spring, whereas the female spicebush can be identified by the bright red berries that adorn the bush in the late summer months. When it's not in bloom, the leaves of spicebush are deep green in the summer months, and golden-yellow in the fall months.
Spicebush is a host plant for spicebush swallowtail butterflies whose larvae feed on it. Spicebush swallowtails are not considered to be a pest to the spicebush, which is actually very resilient to pests.
Spicebush grows best in full sun to partial shade conditions. While it can technically survive in full shade as well, the growth habit will become more open and ‘leggy’ which may be considered as less aesthetically pleasing by some.
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 of the regular rainfall in its growing zones. It is widely considered to be an adaptable shrub and can tolerate a wide range of moisture conditions including short periods of dry soil 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 - although thanks to its adaptable nature it can tolerate a wide range of conditions. It grows rapidly in wet conditions and tolerates humid conditions more readily than overly dry conditions.
Spicebush should be fertilized twice during each growing season. Fertilize in the early spring and then again in midsummer. Use a fertilizer that is specifically formulated for deciduous shrubs for best results.
Although it can be grown from seed with relative ease, Spicebush is not as easily propagated otherwise. It can be successfully propagated by softwood cuttings, although a successful propagation can be difficult. The best time to take softwood cuttings for spicewood propagation is in the late summer or fall.
Use a rooting hormone for best results, and plant the cutting in a moistened mixture of perlite and soilless mix. Softwood cuttings need high humidity in order to sprout roots, so keep the newly potted softwood cutting in a plastic bag to create a humid environment until roots develop.
Varieties of Spicebush
There are at least three cultivators of spicebush that have been developed, although they are not widely available for purchase.
- Lindera benzoin ‘Rubra’ is a male cultivator that is characterized by red flowers.
- Lindera benzoin ‘Xandthocarpa’ is a female cultivator that is characterized by yellow-orange berries.
- Lindera benzoin ‘Green Gold’ is a male cultivator that is characterized by large ornamental flowers.
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.
Growing from Seeds
Fresh seeds are best when it comes to growing spicebush from seed. Fortunately, the berries that adorn the female plants contain its seeds, so if you have a female spicebush (or know someone that does!) it is easy to grow new plants. Harvest the berries in the late summer or fall once they have turned red and remove the seed from inside. Sow the seeds immediately after harvesting in a pot or directly in the garden bed. Germination will occur in the spring of the following year.
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.