Spicebush Plants for Spicebush Swallowtail Butterflies!
Spicebush (Lindera benzoin) is one of the host plants for Spicebush Swallowtail butterflies. They will also use Sassafras, camphor tree (Cinnamomum camphora), redbay (Persea borbonia), swampbay (Persea palustris) but spicebush is one of their favorites.
Lindera benzoin is a US native shrub in the east, midwest, and south. Spicebush is deciduous and grows about 6-12 ft tall. It is hardy in zones 4-9. The berries and leaves have a pleasant fragrance when crushed.
It is a shrub of many seasons: in the spring small yellow flowers appear on the twigs of both male and female plants prior to thick oblong green leaves (3-5″ long). The female plants produce red berries and both male and female plants have bright yellow leaves in the fall. The berries remain attractive after the leaves have fallen.
The berries (drupes) are only produced on the female plants and are readily eaten by birds and other wildlife. In order for the female spicebush to produce berries its flowers must be fertilized by the flowers of a male plant.
NOTE: We can not tell if a plant is a male or female when shipped. One can tell by minute details in the flowers but ours are not old enough to flower (takes several years) so we have no way to know.
The berries are not utilized by the Spicebush Swallowtail butterflies so you will only need multiple plants if you would like it to produce berries (seeds).
Spicebush Swallowtail Butterflies
Spicebush Swallowtail butterflies will lay single eggs on the underside of the leaves. The caterpillars are very interesting. Not only do they change colorings dramatically as they grow but they also build nests in which they hide by folding the edge of the leaf over themselves. They “hide” during the day and feed primarily at night.
Ironically, for me, it makes it easier to find them because I can spot the leaf with a part of it flipped over easier than I can the tiny caterpillars! They start out looking like bird poop. As they grow they turn green with fake eyes to mimic a snake. Right before they pupate they turn bright yellow/orange. If you see a yellow/orange one it is safe to say it is done eating and ready to trek off to find a place to pupate!
As you can guess, the Spicebush Swallowtail butterfly range is nearly the same as the native range of Lindera benzoin.
Lindera benzoin Growth Conditions
Spicebush plants will grow in sun, part-shade, or even shade. In a shady area it will have a lower leaf density and a more open and wide-spreading growth. Fall leaf color improves with the increase in sunlight.
In the south it may benefit from part shade. In our area in South Carolina ours do very well with sun in the morning and shade in the mid afternoon. They prefer moist to average soil but will tolerate some dry periods. We have never had to water ours once they were established.
Propagating Spicebush, Seed or Cuttings
The berries (drupes) are the seeds. They germinate the best if collected in the late summer or fall (once they turn red), cleaned, then planted. They like the warm end of fall followed by the cold of winter before germinating in the spring. Sow them about 1/4 inch deep.
Fresh seed is always the best when it comes to spicebush. Seeds that are allowed to dry out will lose their viability.
Spicebush can be propagated by cuttings but I’ve read it is not easy. It is suggested to try softwood cuttings taken between July and September and use a rooting hormone.
Why Buy Spicebush Plants
Lindera benzoin is an under utilized shrub in the landscape. It is very resistant to disease and pests and has interest nearly year-around with its spring flowers summer butterflies, fall leaf color and fruits. It is highly attractive to many types of birds and other wildlife as well.
The Spicebush Swallowtail caterpillars and butterflies are interesting and beautiful. This plant is a great addition to any garden and especially a butterfly garden!