A Gardening Journal

Must Have: Oriental Spicebush

Lindera angustifolia Arnold Arboretum 031515 640

 

Spring? Nature isn't reading the calendar, because more snow is on the way. Thank goodness, there are always more plants to consider that look amazing in the cold. The graceful narrow leaves of oriental spicebush turn pale tan in Winter—and remain on the branches no matter how long it takes for Spring to arrive.

 

This particular individual is at the Arnold Arboretum in Massachusetts, where the severity and endurance of rough Winter weather has been truly historic. And, still, the leaves are in nearly perfect condition despite months of freezes, ice, blizzards, and high wind. The color, texture, and Winter-long tidiness of the foliage of Lindera angustifolia is so exceptional that branches are in demand for Winter bouquets.

 

Deciduous shrubs and trees that retain their Fall foliage through the Winter are known as marcescent. The marcescent foliage of beeches, oaks, and hornbeams can be extensive as well as attractive, and they can all be pruned to maximize the display. This oriental spicebush is growing free-range, and yet the species already seems as marcescent as possible. The leaves are reported as persisting even as the early-season flowers emerge in April, and are shed, at last, only as the new foliage follows. Shrubs don't need psychiatry, but this one seems nearly phobic—beautifully, mind you—about exposing its bare branches.

 

Look at the tight clusters of buds in the picture below. They have begun to swell despite today's snow, forcing their attractive dark-brown protective scales apart to reveal some of the flowers' greenish white petals.

 

Lindera angustifolia Arnold Arboretum 031515 closer 640

 

The flowers are small and only lightly fragrant. The species' foliage is what provides the common name of spicebush: Leaves that are snapped or crushed release a strong scent that will likely remind you of citrus and cloves—or maybe just dishwasher soap. (I'll confirm the foliage fragrance of this individual in April.) Its spiciness is one reason that deer rarely browse Lindera foliage.

 

Fresh greenish-white flowers at the base of marcescent leaves: Will the look be sophisticated, or will the foliage be persistent to a fault, and obscure the flowers instead of "backdropping" them? To find out, I'll revisit this shrub in April. I'll bring along my sophistimeter and see what kind of reading I get.

 

 

I'm looking forward to profiling this sui generis shrub after I've had experience with it in my own gardens. Meanwhile, look for another post—or three!—following this species' seasonal highlights at the Arnold Arboretum.

 
 
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