Spicebush is a deciduous bush that grows from 6 to 12 feet high and has a spread a little wider than it is tall. It’s found naturally along streams and in wet woods in eastern North America. It does best in hardiness zones 4 to 9. It is a dioecious plant, which means that it’s either male or female. If the gardener wants the shrub to produce its red, olive-shaped fruit, it needs to plant male and female plants together. The spicebush blooms from March to May and has fragrant green-yellow flowers all along its branches. Somewhat unusually, the male flowers are bigger and showier than the female flowers.
The bush likes full sun, but can tolerate even deep shade. It is best to plant it in full sun in the northern areas of its range and in part shade in the southern areas. The shrub has a denser habit in full sun and a more open one in the shade. The spicebush needs medium watering and doesn’t need pampering, though when the shrub is first transplanted the fibrous roots need to stay moist. The soil needs to be rich but well-drained, well-aerated and acidic.
The leaves of the spicebush are thick, oblong or oval and about 5 inches long. At first they are light green, then they turn buttery yellow in the fall.
Besides being planted around walkways, the spicebush is excellent planted as a hedge or in a rain garden. The berries attract birds, and it’s a host plant for the caterpillar of the beautiful spicebush swallowtail butterfly. Other than that, the spicebush doesn’t have too many problems with pests or diseases.