Savoring Spice Bushes

As spring begins to overtake winter, the first little green leaves are often Tartarian honeysuckle followed by autumn olive, two invasives.  Then splashes of yellow can be seen along forest edges. This is not forsythia but spice bush flowers, a native shrub.  Those flowers are very small, but in aggregate they make the woods very joyful.  I often see spice bush (lindera benzoin) when it blooms at this time of year, but I rarely see its red berries in September.  Is this because most of the bushes are males, which don’t make berries, or do the birds grab the berries before I see them?

Try crushing a leaf of the spice bush and a delicious smell will waft your way.  Try scraping or chewing a twig for a delightful taste.  The shrub, which likes sun or part shade, grows to about 8 – 10 feet in height and is native to much of the eastern United States.   I was interested in moving a very small spice bush to a location near a black walnut.  It is one of the plants on a short list that can live near eastern black walnut trees (juglans nigra).  Black walnuts produce juglone, a chemical in leaves, bark, husks, and roots, which is toxic to some plants.

However, there are plants that produce allelochemicals that enhance their survival and inhibit competition including living with black walnut trees.  Spice bush is among the list which includes red oak, sassafras, sycamore, black locust, hackberries and even forsythia.  So I decided I would try to transplant a small spice bush from the edge of the woods to a spot next to the black walnut, moving the small sapling about 40 feet.

Unfortunately, it appears I did not get enough of the spice bush’s tap root in the transplant, so I’ll have to try again. Here’s hoping you too are out and about looking at weekly changes in your environment.