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Northern Spicebush (Lindera benzoin)

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Northern Spicebush

Summary

A native understory shrub of rich deciduous forests in eastern North America.

Range - Expand

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Native

This tentative map is based on the FHWA's ERA. This data lacks information on Canada, but also overestimates native ranges, especially around the edges, as this post explains. We have not yet reviewed or fixed this map.

USDA Plants Profile for Lindera benzoin

Illinois Wildflowers Page for Lindera benzoin

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Sassafras (Sassafras albidum)
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Habitat

Northern spicebush is found in the understory of rich deciduous woods, in moist to mesic conditions. Often common on well-drained sites in bottomlands and floodplain forests, swamp margins, to lower levels of slopes. Often found in woods with tuliptree (Liriodendron tulipifera).

Tolerates slightly drier conditions in denser shade, but limited to moister sites in sunnier conditions. Tolerates a wide range of soil pH from acidic to slightly alkaline. Can tolerate sandy soil if moisture supply is consistent, and tolerates organic muck soils.

Life Cycle

Growth rate is variable based on lighting conditions, with fastest growth in gaps, although it can reach maturity under a completely closed canopy.

Flowers in early spring, before leafing out; fruits mature in fall, and are distributed by animals, mainly birds. Some seeds germinate in the spring, but many remain in the seed bank, sprouting subsequent years. Germination and survival is good in rich leaf litter.

In addition to by seed, this species can reproduce vegetatively through root sprouts. This species can form colonies or thickets on favorable sites, and resprouting can also allow this species to take advantage of disturbances that top-kill the plant along with competing vegetation.

We have not yet found a source verifying the exact lifespan of this species, but it is longer-lived for a shrub, especially considering its ability to resprout.

Faunal Associations

Numerous native birds eat the berries. The larvae of the Spicebush Swallowtail (Papilio troilus), as well as other Lepidopterae, eat the leaves of this species.

Uses

Occasionally used as a landscaping plant, where it is valued for its early flowers, red berries, and the pleasant and distinctive smell of its foliage. Relatively easy to grow, but its use is limited by the fact that it is difficult to transplant.

Historically, this was used as an indicator species for land well-suited to agriculture.

The leaves and fruit are uncommonly used to brew an herbal tea, or as a spice.

Two other species, southern spicebush (Lindera melissifolia), and bog spicebush (Lindera subcoriacea), occur only in limited ranges in the southeastern U.S., where they are rare. Globally, the genus contains 80-100 species, but no others occur in the wild in North America.

The broader Lauraceae family includes numerous other related species, including sassafras (Sassafras albidum), which is native, and the Persea genus, which includes both native and introduced species.

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