Spicebush is blooming

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Spicebush (Lindera benzoin) blooms are the latest sign of spring in the backyard. In my opinion, this is a first-rate shrub for suburban landscapes. This native Kentucky plant is easy to grow and does well in shade or sun.

It has small yellow flowers in early spring and attractive foliage in summer, and female plants have bright red berries in early autumn. The leaves have a pleasant spicy smell when crushed. It can grow up to 15 ft. high but it can be kept to most any size by pruning.

a native Kentucky shrub that's great for landscaping
1. flowering spicebush 2. close-up of flower 3. summer foliage 4. autumn leaves 5. late summer berries on a female plant

And if that isn’t enough, it’s also the major host plant for spicebush butterflies (Papilio troilus). I wrote about the spicebush caterpillar last summer and these images review the butterfly’s life cycle.

Papilio troilus life cycle
1. folded leaf covering small caterpillar 2. small caterpillar 3. full-grown caterpillar 4. chrysalis 5. spicebush swallowtail butterfly

Last summer I found several caterpillars on my two spicebush shrubs and saw the butterflies in the backyard. I’m not sure which I enjoyed more.

Spicebush is fairly common as an understory shrub in our Kentucky woods. Their yellow bloom makes them easy to spot this time of year. I’m glad to find them in the woods and I hope to see more of them in suburban yards.

15 thoughts on “Spicebush is blooming”

  1. Betty,

    Wonderful pictures/description, etc. My spice bush are both in the sun and didn’t do real well last year although I did have several spice bush caterpillars. I’m wondering if I should move one to shade which I do have a lot of in side and back yard? Do you know if they transfer well?

    1. Christine, interesting that your spicebush isn’t doing that well and yet you had several caterpillars. My sources indicated they can take full sun or shade, however, both of mine get more shade than sun. I had no problem transplanting one of mine to a different spot so that might be worth a try.

  2. Thanks, Betty. I’m sold on having the spicebush shrub in my landscape. My wife and I are beginning to visualize how we can redo our shrubs and flowers to create a butterfly and hummingbird habitat. Your two-part, spicebush photo series will help my sales pitch to her — it would, in fact, be a great marketing display at a nursery.

    1. Glad you are thinking of planting a spicebush, Steve. And the idea of creating a butterfly and hummingbird habitat sounds exciting. I predict “if you build it – they will come”. ☺

  3. Dear Betty,

    My friend Patsy Anderson from Kentucky suggested that I visit you…I’m so happy that I took the time to do so.

    Thanks for your wonderful and informative postings. I wish more of our world had a heart such as yours.

    All joys,

    Sharon Lovejoy Writes from Sunflower House and a Little Green Island

    1. Sharon, what a delightful surprise to have your comment. I’ve just checked your blog and especially enjoyed all the great photos and comments regarding your recent Lexington visit. Sorry that I was unable to hear your lecture but look forward to reading your books and future blogs. Thanks for all you are doing to connect children (of all ages) with the wonders of nature.

  4. Hi Betty,

    Oh heck, you missed my new posting with the phoebe and the baby hummers. Just posted it so please visit. I love those birds!

    All joys,

    Sharon Lovejoy Writes from Sunflower House and a Little Green Island

    1. Dear Sharon,

      Have just read your “sweet surrender” blog. Great job. Love your photos and text. Glad to know the hummers are doing so well and will get some hollyhocks in the ground soon!

      I recently bought and have thoroughly enjoyed “Toad Cottages & Shooting Stars”. Thanks for all the ideas and inspiration.

  5. We ave five spice bushes here , thirty miles south of Chicago that I bought from a native plant nursery several years ago, so they are mature. I remember seeing berries in the autumn. But there weren’t any blooms this past spring, and there are several chrysalis on one of th bushes- but sadly they don’t seem viable. We did have a very cold winter, and a very wet spring. Haven’t seen any Spicebush butterflies either this season. Can you shed any light on what could be the problem? I don’t use any chemicals.

    1. Lynne, I’m surprised that you have several chrysalises on the bushes. When caterpillars are finished feeding they usually travel some distance from their feeding site to make a chrysalis. I seldom ever find a chrysalis in the wild. Could you email me (bettyhall@qx.net)a photo of what you are seeing? Have you ever found any caterpillars on the plant? They are usually hidden inside a small fold in the leaf. If you find a fold in the leaf but no caterpillar that would mean something – birds, spiders, etc., ate the caterpillar. I have one large spice bush, This year I’ve found 3 caterpillars. Last year I didn’t find any. Hope this helps.

  6. What time of year do they form a chrysalis? Does the chrysalis winter over?
    I have a caterpillar on my spicebush now and I am worried about its survival.

    1. Mac, I’ve found the spicebush caterpillars at various times throughout the summer. Yes, the chrysalises make it through the winter and are the source of the first butterflies of next year. I can only conclude that butterflies are much tougher than we are prone to think they are. 🙂

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