(This is the second in a series of articles on plants native to our area. But why natives? Because each patch of habitat becomes part of a collective effort to nurture and sustain the living landscape for birds and other animals.)
This wonderful native is blooming now, spreading a pretty pastel lemon yellow through the forest understory. Spicebush, aka Lindera benzoin, is one of our more common forest shrubs, especially if there are deer in the area. Deer will eat a lot, but not spicebush, so if there is heavy deer browse, it might be one of the only shrubs left (changing the balance of our forests). It’s called spicebush because all parts of the plant are fragrant!
It grows to 6 to 8 feet tall, frequently in thickets, as it sprouts new shoots from the roots. It occurs in moist forests and swamps. The leaves are alternate, meaning that they are staggered along the stem, not opposite each other — an important ID characteristic. The leaves are a medium green, 2 to 4 inches long, turning a pretty color in fall if the plant gets some sun.
The shrub is dioecious, meaning that each plant is either male or female. Both have pretty yellow flowers, but the female will then have a red berry, high in lipids, that several bird species love. It is also a host to the spicebush swallowtail caterpillar — later this summer, look for a leaf folded over, making a home for the caterpillar.
Q: Are garden centers and nurseries open? Can we still do some gardening now?
A: Call ahead to find out, and check availability of the plants and supplies you’re thinking about, but now is a great time to get out and do some gardening!
Q: Can I plant my plants anywhere, or should I have a big professional garden design?
A: Whichever you prefer, but a plan is always a good idea, even if it’s just a sketch on the back of an envelope or some ideas floating in your head. A plan will help you use your space efficiently and beautifully, will guide you in what to put where, and will give your garden a structure that works for you.
Think about what you like in your area — those are the parts you might want to feature. What don’t you like? You could cover those up, or hide them. How will you use the area — do you need space for entertaining or cooking? A kids’ play area? A vegetable garden, or a cutting garden? Your imagination is the limit!
In these beginning phases, we’re not even talking about which plants. Make a bubble diagram, if you want, with shapes — a screen here so we won’t be in the neighbors’ laps all the time, a circle there in that sunny area for the vegetable garden, a small oval here under a tree with the bench to relax on.
Once you have these vague ideas settled, then figure out — the screen needs to be 8 feet tall and evergreen, for example, so it’s easy to decide on what plants to get for that. The frontyard flower bed needs to be extra-pretty, since it will be visible, so that makes plant choice easier. That spot over there is super-sunny, so it’s a good place for flowers.
You get the idea. And this makes a timeline, so you can figure out what to do first, much easier as well.
Finally, call us with any questions, or if you need help! We can do this together!