SPICEBUSH BENJAMINBUSH WILD ALLSPICE FEVERBUSH
(Benzoin Benzoin; Lindera Benzoin of Gray) Laurel family
Flowers - Before the leaves, lemon yellow, fragrant, small, in
clusters close to the slender, brittle twigs. Six petal-like
sepals; sterile flowers with 9 stamens in 3 series; fertile
flowers with a round ovary encircled
by abortive stamens. Stem: A
smooth shrub 4 to 20 ft. tall. Leaves: Alternate, entire, oval or
elliptic, 2 to 5 in, long. Fruit: Oblong, red, berry-like drupes.
Preferred Habitat - Moist woodlands, thickets, beside streams.
Flowering Season - March-May.
Distribution - Central New England, Ontario, and Michigan,
southward to Carolina and Kansas.
Even before the scaly catkins on the alders become yellow, or the
silvery velvet pussy willows expand to welcome the earliest bees
that fly, this leafless bush breathes a faint spicy fragrance in
the bleak gray woods. Its only rivals among the shrubbery, the
service-berry and its twin sister the shad-bush, have scarcely
had the temerity to burst into bloom when the little clusters of
lemon-yellow flowers, cuddled close to the naked branches, give
us our first delightful spring surprise. All the favor they ask
of the few insects then flying is that they shall transfer the
pollen from the sterile to the fertile flowers as a recompense
for the early feast spread. Inasmuch as no single blossom
contains both stamens and pistil, little wonder the flowers
should woo with color and fragrance the guests on whose
ministrations the continuance of the species absolutely depends.
Later, when the leaves appear, we may know as soon as we crush
them in the hand that the aromatic sassafras is next of kin. But
ages before Linnaeus published "Species Plantarum" butterflies
had discovered floral relationships.
Sharp eyes may have noticed how often the leaves on both the
spice-bush and the sassafras tree are curled. Have you ever drawn
apart the leaf edges and been startled by the large, fat green
caterpillar, speckled with blue, whose two great black "eyes"
stare up at you as he reposes in his comfortable nest - a cradle
which also combines the advantages of a restaurant? This is the
caterpillar of the common spice-bush swallow-tail butterfly
(Papilio troilus), an exquisite, dark, velvety creature with pale
greenish-blue markings on its hind wings. (See Dr. Holland's
"Butterfly Book," Plate XLI.) The yellow stage of this
caterpillar (which William Hamilton Gibson calls the "spice-bush
bugaboo") indicates, he says, that "its period of transformation
is close at hand. Selecting a suitable situation, it spins a tiny
tuft of silk, into which it entangles its hindmost pair of feet,
after which it forms a V-shaped loop about the front portion of
its body, and hangs thus suspended, soon changing to a chrysalis
of a pale wood color. These chrysalides commonly survive the
winter, and in the following June the beautiful 'blue
swallow-tail' will emerge, and may be seen suggestively
fluttering and poising about the spice and sassafras bushes."
After the eggs she lays on them hatch, the caterpillars live upon
the leaves. Mrs. Starr Dana says the leaves were used as a
substitute for tea during the Rebellion; and the powdered berries
for allspice by housekeepers in Revolutionary days.
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