Plant type: deciduous shrub
Hardiness: USDA Zones 4 to 9
Spicebush is an early-blooming native shrub that bears greenish-yellow flowers in very early spring before the leaves emerge. Although the individual flowers are tiny (1/5 inch), they're carried in clusters and produced in abundance, so the overall effect is quite attractive, especially in early spring when few other plants are blooming. The light green leaves, which appear shortly after the flowers, are quite aromatic—rub a leaf between your fingers to release the fragrance. In addition to the leaves, the twigs, bark, and red fruit of spicebush have been used in herbal tonics and to flavor foods and beverages. Plants range from six to 12 feet tall and spread to 10 feet or more. Spicebush foliage turns rich yellow in fall. As an added bonus, the leaves are the preferred food of the larvae of spicebush swallowtail butterflies, so the plants make great additions to butterfly gardens.
Cultivation: Ideally, give spicebush a spot with rich, moist soil that is well drained and site them in full sun to partial shade, although plants also will grow in full shade. Prune, as necessary, immediately after flowering.
How to use it: Plant spicebush along the edges of woodlands, in shrub borders, and in naturalized areas.