Words of the Day
Common name: Common Spicebush
Out of season, a Spicebush plant can easily be overlooked, but it’s a good illustration of the variability and importance of plants in a wetland. The Spicebush is an aromatic, understory shrub which typically grows between 5-10 feet and found in wooded bottomlands, low swamps, and along streams. Like most shrubs, Spicebush has many trunks, and is colonial, or spreads asexually via its roots. Alternatively, the spice bush can also reproduce sexually, as there are both male and female plants (dioecious), something of an oddity in the botanical world. (It is estimated that only 4% -7% of plants are dioecious.)
The shrubs name derives from the spicy/lemony fragrance of the stems, leaves, and fruits when bruised. It has some limited food value as a flavoring or adding scent, but it had been used as an indicator species by early settlers to locate fertile soil.
Beyond its scent, the shrubs other identifying feature are its fruits, or drupes. The drupes are shiny red berries which are eaten by many birds, particularly thrushes, and wildlife. The drupes mature between August and October, and only appear on the female plant if it has been fertilized.
The leaves are dark green, alternate, pointy-tipped, oval-shaped stalked leaves smooth edges that range between 2 and 6 inches long. The Spicebush is one of the first bushes to bloom in March or April, and produces small, pale yellow flowers. During the fall, the leaves turn yellow.
The Spicebush is also a host plant to butterflies in the swallowtail family, especially the Spicebush Swallowtail and the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail who lay eggs on the underside of the leaves. When a caterpillar emerges from an egg, it wraps the leaf around itself like a jacket, safely spending most of the day in its leaf shelter, leaving only at night to eat.
The Spicebush It is found throughout east Texas, Oklahoma and eastward through all of the Atlantic states and as far north as Maine and southern Canada.
Additional reading and sources:
USDA Plants Database. Plant Guide “Spicebush: Lindera benzoin (L.) Blume.” http://plants.usda.gov/plantguide/pdf/pg_libe3.pdf
Photos copyright USDA, NRCS. 2014. The PLANTS Database (http://plants.usda.gov, 28 May 2014). National Plant Data Team, Greensboro, NC 27401-4901 USA.
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