07 July 2013

Spicebush for spicebush swallowtail babies to grow on

Spicebush swallowtail butterfly caterpillar/chrysalis
Lindera Benzoin, Spicebush, has many uses in the garden, not the least of which is providing a place for spicebush swallowtail butterflies to raise babies.
 
The shrubs in our garden are about 10 feet tall and wide. They are native laurels that spread by roots to make colonies. The spicebush name comes from the spicy fragrance of the twigs when crushed.

The leaves are bright green as you can see. The early spring flowers are tiny and the red winter berries persist throughout most of the winter after the leaves fall. The berries are also spicy flavored and are used in cooking (http://www.wildmanstevebrill.com/Plants.Folder/Spicebush.html)

Swallowtail caterpillar eating leaves
Pioneers and Native Americans used parts the plant for a variety of ailments.

From PA State "Human use of spicebush includes the brewing of teas from the crushed, dried leaves and the grinding of the dried berries into a meat seasoning spice. The teas are said to have a range of medicinal properties that include relief of fatigue, pain, arthritis, fever, cold symptoms, intestinal disorders and even breathing difficulties. Oils from the berries can be applied topically to treat bruises and rheumatic pain and as a general fist-aid ointment for cuts. Chemical analysis of spicebush has revealed thirty-nine different oils in its leaves, twigs and berries. Some of these oils undoubtedly have potential medicinal uses and efficacies."

In the wild, spicebushes grow in woodland shade though not deep in the center of the woods. It is not deer-proof.


Spicebush shrubs are a great choice for a diversity-rich wildlife garden http://www.fcps.edu/islandcreekes/ecology/spicebush.htm

Spicebush native range
If you are clever you can dig one out of the woods but I bought our plants from Wild Things Nursery - easier for me since I'd have a hard time recognizing it in the wild.

 
 Fine Gardening says it is cold hardy zones 4 to 9.  They also describe the fall leaf color as "hypnotic yellow" though I always thought it was the joy of fall weather that caused that effect in me.


2 comments:

Jason said...

I have had several spicebush for a number of years but am still waiting for the caterpillars! In the meantime, the birds like the berries.

Martha Stoodley said...

They are hard to find, Jason. Stand in front of the plant and stare, looking for folder over leaves.
Whey they first hatch the very tip of a leaf will be folded over - less than half the size of a dime.

As the caterpillars grow, the leaf folds become larger until an entire leaf is folded in half - looking like it is wilting.

Inside is the caterpillar, stuck to the leaf by stuff they put on it so they don't fall out.