When choosing plants for the landscape, most folks understandably focus on a plant’s appearance. I do that too. However, I also use my nose. Of course, I like flowers that smell good, but I love leaves that smell good too, especially spicy leaves.
A number of our native plant species have spicy fragrances, probably because the chemicals responsible also repel predators by making the leaves taste less appealing. One example is an understory shrub common to moist forests of the piedmont — Lindera benzoin, or Spicebush.
This shrub isn’t particularly showy, although small yellow flowers that open before the leaves do brighten an early spring landscape if a few plants are grouped together. And their warm gold leaves light up the understory every autumn. The species is dioecious, which means male and female flowers are found on separate plants; the female plants produce bright red berries beloved by the feathered crowd.
I introduced this shrub to my floodplain for its spicy leaves. I’ve read that you can make a tasty tea from them, but I’ve never tried. I planted these bushes so that I can walk by during the growing season, grab and crush a leaf, and inhale its sweet-spicy goodness. I also added this species because it’s a key food plant for the Spicebush Swallowtail butterfly. These lovely butterflies have definitely increased their visits to my summer flowers since I added the food plant their caterpillar stage requires.
Details about this shrub are readily available on the Web. The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center’s site is always a good one to visit for information on natives. You can read what they say about Spicebush here.
I count adding this native beauty a win on multiple levels: early spring flowers, berries for birds, spicy goodness for me, and more butterflies to add beauty and movement to my landscape.
Here’s a photo that Wonder Spouse took of a Spicebush Swallowtail visiting one of our Swamp Milkweeds (Asclepias incarnata) — another native I’m crazy about and will describe another time.