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TREES & Plants

Spicebush

Spicebush, named for its spicy, fragrant leaves and stems, is native to understory of woods in the Chicago area, and is most often used in landscapes in shrub borders and naturalized areas.  Bright red fruit ripens from July through October on female plants, but is only showy once the foliage fall off.  High in fat content, the berries are quickly eaten by various species of birds. 

Botanical name: 
Lindera benzoin
All Common Names: 
Spicebush, spice-bush
Family (English): 
Laurel
Family (Botanic): 
Lauraceae
Tree or Plant Type: 
  • Shrub
Foliage: 
  • Deciduous (foliage falls off)
Native Locale: 
  • Chicago area
  • Illinois
  • North America
Hardiness Zones: 
  • Zone 4
  • Zone 5
  • Zone 6
  • Zone 7
  • Zone 8
  • Zone 9
Growth Rate: 
  • Slow
  • Medium
Light Exposure: 
  • Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily)
  • Partial sun (4-6 hrs direct light daily)
  • Partial shade (4-6 hrs indirect light daily)
Tolerances: 
  • Occasional drought
  • Wet sites
  • Occasional flooding
Soil Preference: 
  • Acid soil
  • Moist, well-drained soil
  • Wet soil
Flower Color & Fragrance: 
  • Fragrant
  • Yellow
Size Range: 
  • Large shrub (more than 8 feet)
  • Medium shrub (5-8 feet)
Shape or Form: 
  • Multi-stemmed
  • Rounded
Landscape Uses: 
  • Shade
  • Mixed border
Time of Year: 
  • Early spring
  • Early fall
More Information: 

Size & Form

6 to 12 feet high and wide with an open, rounded habit

Tree & Plant Care

Difficult to transplant because of fiberous root system.
Best in part shade but will tolerant full sun with adequate soil moisture.
Prune after flowering.
All parts of plant are highly aromatic when crushed.
Drought sensitive.

Disease, pests, and problems

None serious.

Native geographic location and habitat

C-Value: 7
Found in moist locations in bottomlands, woods, ravines, valleys and along streams.
Native to eastern North America

Attracts birds & butterflies

High-energy fruit attracts many birds
Flowers a favorite of many butterflies, and the larvae (caterpillar) of the spicebush swallowtail butterfly feeds on the leaves.

Bark color and texture 

Stems are a greenish tan with light colored lenticles.
Mature bark is dark brown with a hint of green.

Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture

Thick, oblong, light green leaves , 4 to 6 inches long and 2 to 3 inches wide are pointed at both ends. Margins are slightly wavy.
Leaves turn an attractive yellow in autumn.
Leaves are aromatic when crushed.

Flower arrangement, shape, and size

Dioecious (male and female flowers on separate plants).
Bright yellow cluster appear before the leaves in early spring.
Male flowers are larger and showier than the female flowers.

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions

A male pollinator in needed in order to set fruit.
Female plants produce 1/2-inch long, clusters of  bright red fruits (drupes), which mature in fall. Drupes are showy, but hidden by the foliage until the leaves drop.
This high energy fruit is a favorite for many birds.