Spicebush Berries

I planted Spicebush (Lindera benzoin) four years ago and this is really the first year I’ve gotten  berries in any serious quantity. Spicebush berries are a highly valuable fall food for songbirds, particularly those in the thrush family. The berries are also ornamental, and have a citrus fragrance when crushed – as do Spicebush leaves. And the leaves are the larval food of the spicebush swallowtail butterfly – not that I’ve seen any yet. (If any spicebush swallowtail butterflies are reading this, they can take that as a hint.)

Spicebush berries in our backyard.

Since Spicebush are dioecious, you’ll need male and female plants if you want berries. There’s no way to tell the sex of a Spicebush (this suggests a botanical joke in search of a punchline), so you just have to play the odds and plant several. I have five, which seems to have done the trick, although I wasn’t completely sure until this year.

Spicebush are happiest in part shade and moist soil. I have mine in the backyard in a spot that is usually moist, but they’ve suffered in drought and on very hot days.  I’ve given them a fair amount of supplemental water this summer.

In spring Spicebush have small fuzzy yellow flowers that make it look like a very understated forsythia. I thought I had a picture of them blooming in my garden but I couldn’t find it, so here’s one from the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center:

Spicebush (Lindera benzoin). Photo: Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center

Looking at this picture makes me realize I need to pay more attention to pruning and shaping my Spicebush. Notice the graceful habit, almost like a small multi-stem tree? Mine aren’t anything like that, they’re more of a shrubby mess.  In any case, this is one very nice shrub, worth considering for any shady garden in the eastern, midwestern, and most of the southern US.

26 Comments on “Spicebush Berries

  1. I have 4 spicebush and have never had berries so that’s something to look forward too. Mine just have a single trunk though and resemble a small tree. But then again, the picture was from Texas and you know how they are :)
    (p.s. Texas and Arkansas were big football rivals for years, so I say this because we still hold grudges for any defeats)

  2. I had NO idea the spicebush would get that large! I had one, but it died in one of our droughts. Just as well, though – I hadn’t planned for a bush of that size!

  3. Hmmm…I hadn’t even thought about it. But you’ve convinced me this would be a good alternative to Barberry. I hate to pull out shrubs, but … well, we’ll see. That first photo shows it at its best.

    • Oh, thanks, glad you think so (that’s the one Judy took). I always thought barberry was a low-growing shrub … I actually like to pull out shrubs, because it enables me to try new shrubs.

  4. How much sun does your spicebush get? have thought about getting one but I’m worried it would get too much sun.

    • They get a fair amount of afternoon sun, plus they are in a corner with white siding and brick. This makes them more vulnerable to drought, I’ve had some die back in dry periods.

  5. I would like to make a stand on behalf of the Forsythia Appreciation Society, despite the fact that they’re a little unruly, wild, common and look untidy for most of the year, in the dull depressing late winter months, when everything is grey and getting you down, the Forsythia saves the day and erupts into a giant shining vibrant yellow beacon, saying “just hang on for a bit longer, Spring is on its way!”

  6. I’m trying to find out how to dry the berries to use later. I had some cookies made with them this summer and they were delicious. I’ve got lots of red berries at the edges of my yard.

    • I had no idea spicebush berries were edible, but now I’ve looked it and see that you can cook with them – including the seed, if you grind it up. The berries can also be frozen, but not dried.

      • Well, I was planning to dry them! Can you tell me where to find more information? I wonder why it would be that you can freeze them but not dry them?

      • I’m sorry but I didn’t hold on to that link, but I just googled “are spicebush berries edible?” I think it’s because the berries are kind of oily.

  7. I have a few forsythia (Forsythia x intermedia ‘Spring Glory’ which seem to be a bit later and more gold than yellow) – they and the daffs are a welcome sight in spring. I enjoy reading about all the different plants in your yard – gives me great ideas of new things to try.

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