Spicebush (Lindera benzoin)

How many on the east coast of the US are familiar with Spicebush (Lindera benzoin)? Usually I’ve found Spicebush in wetlands but I’ve heard of it growing in moist woodlands (non-wetland environments). Where have you found this shrub growing? Do you find that White-Tailed Deer are eating this shrub? Have you ever broken a twig to sniff the spicy aroma? I wrote a brief article about Spicebush if you are interested. https://njurbanforest.com/2020/10/06/plants-of-new-jersey-18-spice-bush/

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This species is very common in NW Arkansas were it is classified as FAC. I find it mostly in river terraces and moist forests as well as more saturated wetland habitats. The leaves smell great! It was always a great thing to point out to students in Dendrology class at the University of Arkansas. I can’t say that I have really noticed a lot of evidence of deer browsing but I have found spicebush caterpillars.

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For butterfly enthusiasts it’s a well known host plant for the spicebush swallowtail (Papilio troilus). Most of the ones I’ve encountered have been in moist, shaded areas which is sort of ironic since the butterfly seems to prefer laying eggs in sunny areas.

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That’s interesting that Spicebush has a different wetland indicator status than NJ. Here in NJ it is labeled FACW-. There must be something Deer do not like about this shrub, because it seems to thrive even where a high deer population is present. That’s great about finding the spicebush caterpillars!

I agree with your statement, I seem to find Spicebush in heavily shaded areas as well.

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In the Southern Appalachians (NC mountains) it seems to be locally abundant in the understory of hardwood forests in habitat that is shaded but not wetland. This may be due to deer avoiding it in favor of eating tree saplings and other plants? We’re seeing a similar phenomenon with mountain holly (Ilex montana) being locally abundant in the understory where tree saplings are nearly completely missing. If someone here asks me what shrubs to plant that will survive the deer frequenting their yard, those are two that I would recommend.

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I love spicebush! There are several areas I know of here in Ohio where it grows so abundantly that you can smell it all around you as you walk by. The tallest stands I’ve ever seen grow in a relatively dry area of Shawnee Lookout park. They must be fairly old, well-established shrubs, reaching about 12 feet high in places and with branches as thick as 1–2 inches. Another thriving population can be seen on the north side of Bender Mountain Nature Preserve (which is a “place,” here: https://www.inaturalist.org/places/bender-mountain-nature-preserve). It’s fairly moist in the lower slopes, but the spicebush grows all over the north side from valley to ridge, while the south side is dominated by Amur honeysuckle.

I’ve never noticed any damage from deer browsing, though they will browse the honeysuckle. I just wish they liked the latter even better.

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Spicebush may be the most common shrub in moist forests near Washington DC. It’s all over both the floodplain zone and moist forested slopes. In fact the only forested areas where it’s sparse to nonexistent here are dry ridges.

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I used to live in Southern Virginia (Franklin/Floyd county area). Spicebush was fairly abundant in the moist woodland areas there.

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Here in Louisiana, I also find spicebush pretty much only in areas with very little vegetation, like in the background of this photo.

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It’s interesting to note that deer seem to avoid those two shrubs. I wonder if the wetland indicator status for NC is different than NJ? And if so, why?

That’s a wonderful scent! Interesting that it grows in a dry area. I agree, wish they would eradicate the Amur Honeysuckle.

Is there a heavy Deer presence? I have never seen Spicebush growing on ridges either.

Was there a heavy deer presence?

That’s interesting. I wonder why that is? Not even fern cover (like Hay-scented ferns)?

On the USDA website, it’s listed as FAC in the “Eastern Mountains and Piedmont” and FACW everywhere else.

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Wow, lots of new people on this thread!

Welcome to @kwillard, @jberlin, and @katyms :)

@njurbanforest1, you can reply to multiple people at once by highlighting their words and selecting “quote”, multiple times. This helps people understand context, keeps the thread clean, and prevents the system from accidentally marking you as a spammer for posting too often.

It will look like this when you type
[quote="njurbanforest1, post:14, topic:17111, full:true"] Was there a heavy deer presence? [/quote]
And like this when we see it

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Thank you!! I will do this going forward.

The deer presence is insane in our corner of Ohio. It’s not uncommon for the parks service to do controlled hunts to cull the population, and prairie restoration usually involves making deer exclosures to protect plants from browsing.

The spicebush is definitely more common in the lower, wetter elevations, and I don’t think I’ve encountered it on steeper sections of the ridge, but there are a few close to the ridge where the slope is not as great. (The main trail through this preserve runs right along the ridge - you can see it in this observation: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/33615248). The north side of the slope is a lot wetter than the south.

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Yes, deer are notorious for overbrowsing in the Washington DC suburbs, despite controlled hunts in some local parks. I’ve heard local gardeners complain about deer eating plants that are reputed to be deer-resistant.

Entomologist Doug Tallamy says spicebush is one of the few native plants in the eastern US that deer don’t favor. Chemical compounds in the leaves (not sure which ones) must be either distasteful or toxic to deer.

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