Forsythia announces spring like no other plant. Some love it; some not so much.
Whichever camp you may be in, there is a super native alternative: spicebush (Lindera benzoin).
Spicebush pushes out puffy little clouds of tennis ball yellow blooms along its branches in early spring. Once spicebush blooms in the Chesapeake watershed, you know spring is here. Like forsythia, once spicebush greens up, it tends to blend into the background. Spicebush does tons more than forsythia though.
First, it has a more organized branching structure so does not become the tangled web that forsythia can. Mature shrubs are quite graceful, particularly in spring when you see the branches and buds.
Second, the female spicebush produces bright red berries that birds are reported to love. A male plant is needed to produce berries. I am not aware of a way to differentiate which means planting several to increase the chance for berries.
Third, spicebush leaves turn a magnificent yellow in fall.
Most importantly, spicebush is the host plant for the caterpillar of the spicebush swallowtail butterfly.
Last, it can handle sun to shade, clay and is easy to grow. They take a few years to get established but totally worth the wait. Plant this incredible native to signal the start of Spring – you won’t be disappointed.
For more information:
Important and practical tips about spicebush.
Beautiful photographs of spicebush in every season from the Mt. Cuba Center.