Lindera is a genus of flowering plants that contains 80 to 120 species. Three of these species are native to North America, while the rest of them are native to Asia. A couple common names for these trees and shrubs are Benjamin bush and spicebush, though many of the species share very similar common names, occasionally resulting in confusion. Some of these species are often used in traditional medicine, while others are endangered due to the destruction of their natural habitat. This genus is a mixture of both evergreen and deciduous plants, all of which have strong a fragrance.
One of the most common species in this genus, Lindera benzoin, is native to the eastern parts of the United States. This shrub is usually found in moist thickets, and it is a favorite food and egg-laying area for several butterflies, such as the spicebush swallowtail. These insects are not capable of destroying entire leaves of the Lindera benzoin plant, but young plants can be significantly damaged by just one caterpillar. This is a popular plant in many butterfly gardens due to how highly attracted some butterflies are to it.
Another species in this genus is Lindera melissifolia, which is native to the southeastern area of the United States. This species can be found growing in wetlands in the wild and is an endangered species as of 2010 due to wetland drainage. Lindera melissifolia is sometimes referred to as the southern spicebush, or pondberry, and is an aromatic shrub that bears red, single-seeded drupes as fruit. This plant can also be identified by its drooping leaves that are tapered to the tips and by the net-like veins that cover the underside of these leaves.
The plants of this genus prefer partial shade, and most species are quite winter hardy. They thrive in very moist soil that contains clay, sand, or both. The flowers will begin to bloom in April or May, and its fruit can be used as a spice when ripe, similar to pepper or nutmeg.
In 1787, it was reported that Native Americans used the berries and twigs of Lindera plants in order to create a drink to treat low-grade fevers. The drink was again used in the late 1700s to treat fever, and the berries were used in place of allspice, this time by American soldiers in the Revolutionary War. Various parts of the plants were also used to treat other ailments around that time. No scientific evidence, however, supports the notion that the teas or powders created from parts of these plants actually worked, and the plants have no medicinal or commercial use as of 2010.