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Response to a Reader Question

Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission - Friday, November 19, 2010

Last month we wrote about our work to protect the endangered plant, pondberry. The article was very popular and generated a fantastic reader question:

“This plant looks so similar to spicebush. Can you tell me the distinct difference? Thanks, Mary G.” Thanks for the question, Mary! Below are more images of the plant and ANHC botanist Theo Witsell’s response.

Left to right: pondberry (Lindera melissifolia) and spicebush (Lindera benzoin).

As you noted, pondberry and spicebush are closely related. One good character for separating the two is leaf shape. Pondberry usually has leaves with a rounded base and a tapering tip while spicebush has a tapering base and more of a blunt, or obtuse, tip. Also, the stalks of the fruit in pondberry are 7-8 mm long, and those in spicebush are 3-4 mm long.

Below is the key that separates the species in Keys to the Flora of Arkansas by Edwin B. Smith:

1. Leaves tapered at the base, widely obovate to elliptical; lowest 2 pairs of lateral veins parallel with those near the tip of the blade; pedicels in young fruit ca. 3-4 mm long; throughout Arkansas…Lindera benzoin (spicebush) 1. Leaves rounded at the base, narrowly ovate; lowest 2 pairs of lateral veins ascending at a much sharper angle, usually, than those near the tip of the blade; pedicel in young fruit ca. 7-8 mm long, northeastern Arkansas…Lindera melissifolia (pondberry)

Left to right: ANHC herbarium specimens for pondberry (Lindera melissifolia) and spicebush (Lindera benzoin).

The two plants also have different habitats. Pondberry is confined to sandy depression wetlands with fluctuating water levels while spicebush is widespread and can be found in all manner of rich, wooded habitats.

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