Shrubs or small trees , to 5 m. Young twigs glabrous or sparsely pubescent. Leaves horizontal to ascending, strongly aromatic (spicy) throughout growing season; petiole ca. 10 mm, glabrous or pubescent. Leaf blade obovate, smaller blades generally elliptic, (4-)6-15 × 2-6 cm, membranous, base cuneate, margins ciliate, apex rounded to acuminate on larger leaves; surfaces abaxially glabrous to densely pubescent, adaxially glabrous except for a few hairs along midrib. Drupe oblong, ca. 10 mm; fruiting pedicels of previous season not persistent on stem, slender, 3-5 mm, apex not conspicuously enlarged. 2 n = 24. Flowering spring. Stream banks, low woods, margins of wetlands; uplands, especially with exposed limestone; 0-1200 m; Ont.; Ala., Ark., Conn., Del., D.C., Fla., Ga., Ill., Ind., Kans., Ky., La., Maine, Md., Mass., Mich., Miss., Mo., N.H., N.J., N.Y., N.C., Ohio, Okla., Pa., R.I., S.C., Tenn., Tex., Vt., Va., W.Va. The flowers of Lindera benzoin have an unusually sweet fragrance. Among the Cherokee, Creek, Iroquois, and Rappahannock tribes, Lindera benzoin was used for various medicinal purposes (D. E. Moerman 1986).
Shrub to 5 m tall Leaves: light green above, paler beneath, 4 - 15 cm long, 2 - 6 cm wide, elliptic to inversely egg-shaped with a wedge-shaped base and rounded or short-pointed tip, lined with hairs along the margin, smooth to densely hairy beneath. Leaves turn yellow in fall. Flowers: either male or female, found on separate plants (dioecious), borne in clusters of three to six at the nodes, very short-stalked, yellow, tiny, lacking petals, sweetly scented. Fruit: fleshy with a hard center stone (drupe), 10 mm long, bright red, oblong. Twigs: green to olive-brown, becoming light brown to gray with age, smooth to nearly hairless, flaking into thin strips when older. Buds: small, egg-shaped, greenish brown, with stalked flower buds clustered near single vegetative buds. Odor: spicy and aromatic, released from nearly all plant parts when bruised.
Similar species: Lindera benzoin is easily distinguished from other species in the Chicago Region by its spicy, aromatic fragrance; small, stalked flower buds clustered around a vegetative bud; clusters of three to six tiny, yellow flowers surrounding the nodes; and bright red, fleshy fruit.
Flowering: April to May
Habitat and ecology: Found in the understory of wet to mesic woods and swampy woodlands, this shrub is quite common in the wet wooded dune areas of Indiana.
Occurence in the Chicago region: native
Notes: This species was once used medicinally to increase blood circulation and perspiration. It was also a remedy for intestinal worms, coughs, colds, and dysentery. During the Revolutionary War, the fruit was used as an allspice substitute. Many species of birds use the fruit as a food source, and the leaves are consumed by the spicebush swallowtail caterpillar.
Etymology: Lindera is named after Swedish botanist and physician, Johann Linder (1676 - 1723). Benzoin refers to the similarity of its fragrance to that of the balsamic resin found in Styrax benzoin.
Author: The Morton Arboretum
From Flora of Indiana (1940) by Charles C. Deam
Spicebush was formerly found, without doubt, in every county of the state. It is always found in wet places in woods although I found it to be abundant on the north slope of a wooded hill about 3 miles northeast of Madison in Jefferson County. In the forester's opinion it is an obnoxious shrub in the woodland. This shrub is extremely variable as to the pubescence of the branchlets and leaves. The form with pubescent branchlets, lower surface of leaves, petioles, and pedicels has been named var. pubescens Palmer & Steyermark (Ann. Missouri Bot. Gard. 22: 545. 1935). Since my 73 Indiana specimens show every gradation between the glabrous and the pubescent forms I prefer to regard our specimens as belonging to a polymorphic complex.
Much-branched shrub to 5 m; lvs obovate to oblong or elliptic, 6-12 cm, pointed at both ends, pinnately veined, the uppermost lvs on each twig commonly the largest; petioles 5-12 mm; fls yellow, 6-7 mm wide, appearing before the lvs in dense clusters ca 2 cm thick from the nodes of last year's stems; fr short-stalked, red, ellipsoid, 6-10 mm; 2n=24. Abundant in rich, moist woods; s. Me. to Mich., s. to Fla. and Tex. Mar.-May. (Benzoin aestivale) The northern var. benzoin, with the lvs and twigs glabrous, extends s. to Va. and Mo., and in the mts. to Ga. The more southern var. pubescens (E. J. Palmer & Steyerm.) Rehder, with the lower lf surfaces and young twigs hairy, extends n. to se. Va., s. O., sw. Mich., and Mo.
Gleason, Henry A. & Cronquist, Arthur J. 1991. Manual of vascular plants of northeastern United States and adjacent Canada. lxxv + 910 pp.
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Citation: The vPlants Project. vPlants: A Virtual Herbarium of the Chicago Region. http://www.vplants.org
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