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Spicebush Provides Fall Color and Fragrant Scent

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Lindera strychnifolia JC Raulston ©

Lindera strychnifolia
JC Raulston ©

The name spicebush brings to mind fragrance and, in fact, the plant is named for its spicy scent. The Northern spicebush, Lindera benzoin, is a fairly common large shrub, sometimes a small tree, that is found on northern slopes, river bottomlands and woodland streambanks in scattered locations from Florida to Canada.

Spicebush is dioecious and spreads slowly by suckers. It reaches a height and spread of about 10 to 20 feet and when used in the landscape is a good shrub for the border or for natural areas. Besides being extremely fragrant, the brilliant scarlet fruit of the female plants is eye-catching in the autumn landscape. The foliage is a favorite of the spicebush swallowtail caterpillar.

For best landscape performance, situate the spicebush in a semi-shady spot in moist soil. Lindera is difficult to transplant because of a coarsely fibrous root system, and it is somewhat slow to re-establish.

Lindera salicifolia Bryce Lane ©

Lindera salicifolia
Bryce Lane ©

There are 80 other species of Lindera, some evergreen, others tardily deciduous, and praised by such plantsmen as the late J.C. Raulston.Lindera glauca and L. angustifolia have spreading habits with blue-green leaves in the summer. The narrow, elliptic leaves change to brilliant shades of yellow, apricot and crimson in fall. The foliage then changes to tan and persists on the plant through to winter, giving the shrub the appearance of a small beech tree. Lindera glauca has yellow flowers in early spring that are followed with black, pearl-sized fruit in the fall. Birds find this fruit very appealing, after it matures in September.

The Lindera collection at the JC Raulston Arboretum is impressive, numbering over a half dozen throughout the grounds. One of the most striking is the L. angustifolia specimen within the Winter Garden; its fall color is a beacon of brilliance and a harbinger of the impending seasonal beauty within this garden.

Karen Neill