Content Detail

Spicebush, named for its spicy, fragrant leaves and stems, is native to moist woodlands in the Midwest and occasionally found in the Chicago area. It is most often used in shrub borders and naturalizing landscaping. Bright red fruits ripen from July through October on female plants, but are only showy once the foliage falls off. High in fat content in the berries are quickly eaten by various species of birds. 

This species is native to the Chicago Region according to Swink and Wilhelm’s Plants of the Chicago Region, with updates made according to current research.

  • Family (English) Laurel
  • Family (botanic) Lauraceae
  • Tree or plant type Shrub
  • Foliage Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)
  • Native locale Chicago area, Illinois, North America
  • Size range Medium shrub (5-8 feet), Large shrub (more than 8 feet)
  • Light exposure Full sun (6 hrs direct light daily), Partial sun / shade (4-6 hrs light daily)
  • Hardiness zones Zone 4, Zone 5 (Northern Illinois), Zone 6 (City of Chicago), Zone 7, Zone 8, Zone 9
  • Soil preference Acid soil, Moist, well-drained soil, Wet soil
  • Tolerances Occasional drought, Occasional flooding, Wet sites
  • Season of interest early spring, early fall
  • Flower color and fragrance Fragrant, Yellow
  • Shape or form Multi-stemmed, Open, Round
  • Growth rate Moderate, Slow

Size and form:

Spicebush matures to 6 to 12 feet high and wide with an open, rounded habit.

Native geographic location and habitat:

It is native to eastern North America and found in moist locations in bottomlands, woods, ravines, valleys, and along streams. C-Value: 7

Attracts birds & butterflies:

High-energy fruit attracts many birds. Flowers are a favorite of many butterflies, and the larvae (caterpillar) of the spicebush swallowtail butterfly feeds on the leaves.

Bark color and texture:

Stems are a greenish-tan with light colored lenticels. Mature bark is dark brown with a hint of green.

Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture:

The thick, oblong, light green leaves are 4 to 6 inches long and 2 to 3 inches wide, pointed at both ends with slightly wavy margins. Leaves remain green long into fall, but turn an attractive yellow in late autumn. Leaves are aromatic when crushed.

Flower arrangement, shape, and size:

Dioecious male and female flowers are on separate plants. Bright yellow flower clusters appear before the leaves in early spring. Male flowers are larger and showier than the female flowers.

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions:

A male pollinator is needed in order to set fruit on the female plant. Female plants produce 1/2 inch long clusters of  bright red fruits (drupes), which mature in fall. The drupes are showy, but hidden by the foliage until the leaves drop. This high energy fruit is a favorite for many birds. 

Plant care:

Spicebush grows best in part shade but will tolerate full sun with adequate soil moisture. The fibrous root system makes it difficult to transplant. Since it blooms on old wood, prune soon after flowering. All parts of this shrub are highly aromatic when crushed. 

List of pests, diseases and tolerances:

There aren’t any serious pests or diseases, but it is sensitive to drought.


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