Monday, March 26, 2012

Spicebush Love

Day 68
The Daily DuBrule

What's that soft yellow plant that is blooming in all of the wet woodlands this week? It is Lindera benzoin or spicebush. It is called this because if you scratch the bark it smells spicy. I discovered spicebush when I lived on Leete's Island in Guilford. The "Lower Road" as it was called was a road that went straight through inland wetlands. Every spring I would observe this yellow cloud of flowers, usually right before the forsythia blossomed. I finally figured out what I was looking at: a wonderful native understory tree.

The reason this plant is so important is that it is the larval food plant of the spicebush swallowtail butterfly. Larval food plants are critical for the continuation of a butterfly species. The mother lands on the plant and "drums" to release the scent which tells her this is the very plant that will support her young. Butterfly larvae are host specific. If they do not feed on their larval food plant, they will die. 

After this plant flowers, it turns into an unobstrusive green tree all summer long. Late in the summer the flowers turn into red berries that provide a feast for the birds. This is yet another benefit for habitat creation.

You may never see a spicebush swamp and say "Oh my goodness, I LOVE it!" like I do. In fact, I take the back roads at this time of year just to observe this in bloom. But now that you know what it is, you will certainly appreciate its place in the scheme of things. Ain't nature wonderful?!

1 comment:

  1. I love spicebush, and I am trying to grow it in my garden, but it's been difficult to establish. I lost most of what I planted (too much sun I think), but two are finally beginning to put on size after six years. They are small, but have the haze of soft yellow flowers opening just now. Lovely.