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Lindera melissifolia

Previously known as:

  • Laurus melissifolia
Description

Pondberry or Southern Spicebush is a small deciduous, native shrub that belongs to the Laurel family. The shrub's native habitat is typically pond margins, swampy depressions, seasonally flooded wetlands, poorly drained sandy areas, and pinelands. The Pondberry may be found in the North Carolina Coastal Plains in the counties of Bladen, Cumberland, and Sampson. Land clearing, drainage of wetlands, and timber harvesting have lead to this shrub's placement on the endangered species list since 1986. 

The Pondberry is a colony-forming shrub and forms pale yellow blooms from March to April prior to its leaves emerging. Female and male flowers are produced on separate plants. Often the shrub forms colonies of all female or all male plants. Red fruits called drupes develop on the female plants and mature by late summer and fall. The shrub may reproduce by rhizomes or by seeds. The seeds are viable for only a short time. Unfortunately, there has been a lack of seedling establishment which has further endangered this species. The dark green leaves and young stems are hairy, and there is an aroma of sassafras especially when fresh leaves are crushed.

Use this plant in native pollinator shady gardens around ponds, bogs, swamps or seasonally flooded areas.

Insects, Diseases, and Other Plant Problems:  This plant is susceptible to laurel wilt which is a fungal infection transmitted by the Red Bay Ambrosia Beetle.

See this plant in the following landscape:
Cultivars / Varieties:
Tags:
#shade tolerant#yellow flowers#fragrant leaves#native shrub#spring flowers#NC native#swamps#bogs#colonies#bird friendly#butterfly friendly#host plant#wet soil intolerant
 
Cultivars / Varieties:
Tags:
#shade tolerant#yellow flowers#fragrant leaves#native shrub#spring flowers#NC native#swamps#bogs#colonies#bird friendly#butterfly friendly#host plant#wet soil intolerant
  • Attributes:
    Genus:
    Lindera
    Species:
    melissifolia
    Family:
    Lauraceae
    Life Cycle:
    Woody
    Recommended Propagation Strategy:
    Root Cutting
    Seed
    Country Or Region Of Origin:
    USA
    Distribution:
    Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, South Carolina
    Wildlife Value:
    Pollinated by insects, flies, wasps, and bees. Spicebush Swallowtail Butterfly larvae feed on the leaves. Leafcutter bees cut sections of the leaf margins ultimately removing most of the leaf. Berries are eaten by birds such as cardinals and thrashers. The swamp rabbit eats the stems and leaves.
    Edibility:
    When Pondberry was more prevalent, its twigs were sometimes brewed to make tea, and people drank the tea as a spring tonic.
  • Whole Plant Traits:
    Plant Type:
    Native Plant
    Perennial
    Shrub
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Deciduous
    Habit/Form:
    Dense
    Erect
  • Cultural Conditions:
    Light:
    Dappled Sunlight (Shade through upper canopy all day)
    Deep shade (Less than 2 hours to no direct sunlight)
    Soil Texture:
    Loam (Silt)
    Sand
    Soil Drainage:
    Frequent Standing Water
    Moist
    Occasionally Wet
    NC Region:
    Coastal
    USDA Plant Hardiness Zone:
    7b, 8a, 8b, 9b, 9a
  • Fruit:
    Fruit Color:
    Red/Burgundy
    Display/Harvest Time:
    Fall
    Summer
    Fruit Type:
    Drupe
    Fruit Length:
    < 1 inch
    Fruit Width:
    < 1 inch
    Fruit Description:
    The fruits are bright red, spicy, oval to round, and measure 0.25 to 0.5 inches long. They appear only on the female plants. The fruit typically matures in late summer to fall and often remain on the plant until the leaves have fallen. Each fruit produces one seed. The seeds are dispersed by wildlife either birds or mammals. They can germinate the following spring.
  • Flowers:
    Flower Color:
    Gold/Yellow
    Flower Inflorescence:
    Raceme
    Flower Value To Gardener:
    Fragrant
    Flower Bloom Time:
    Spring
    Flower Shape:
    Saucer
    Star
    Flower Petals:
    Tepals
    Flower Size:
    < 1 inch
    Flower Description:
    The flowers appear in March and April before the leaves emerge. The flower is pale to bright yellow, fragrant, 0.25 inches wide, and they appear in clusters of 4-6 flowers. There are separate male and female shrubs. Flowers lack petals and have bright yellow tepals. Staminate flowers have 2 whorls of tepals and 9-12 stamens. Pistillate flowers have one whorl of tepals and an inner whorl of scales that produce nectar. The Pondberry flowers tend to appear in the second or fourth year of the growth of the shrub.
  • Leaves:
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Deciduous
    Leaf Color:
    Green
    Leaf Feel:
    Soft
    Leaf Value To Gardener:
    Fragrant
    Deciduous Leaf Fall Color:
    Gold/Yellow
    Leaf Type:
    Simple
    Leaf Arrangement:
    Alternate
    Leaf Shape:
    Elliptical
    Leaf Margin:
    Entire
    Hairs Present:
    Yes
    Leaf Length:
    3-6 inches
    Leaf Width:
    1-3 inches
    Leaf Description:
    The Pondberry leaves smell like sassafras or root beer when crushed. The leaves are thin, simple, alternate, drooping, dark green, and have toothless margins. They appear oval and then taper to a sharp pointed tip. They measure 2 to 6 inches long and 1.2 to 2.4 inches wide. They are widest at the middle or just below the middle of the leaf. There are netted veins on both sides of the leaf, but the soft slightly hair surface is only on the undersides.
  • Bark:
    Bark Color:
    Dark Brown
    Dark Gray
    Bark Description:
    The bark is dark brown to dark gray. It is aromatic when bruised.
  • Stem:
    Stem Color:
    Brown/Copper
    Gray/Silver
    Red/Burgundy
    Stem Is Aromatic:
    Yes
    Stem Surface:
    Hairy (pubescent)
    Stem Description:
    The stems are narrow, reddish-brown to gray. Initially, the surface is hairy and later appears smooth.
  • Landscape:
    Landscape Location:
    Coastal
    Pond
    Riparian
    Landscape Theme:
    Butterfly Garden
    Native Garden
    Pollinator Garden
    Rain Garden
    Shade Garden
    Water Garden
    Attracts:
    Bees
    Butterflies
    Small Mammals
    Songbirds
    Resistance To Challenges:
    Heavy Shade
    Wet Soil