(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.