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TREES & plants

Leatherwood

Leaves of leatherwood.

Leatherwood is an interesting, under-used native shrub with small yellow flowers in early spring before leaves emerge. Light green leaves turn a bright yellow color in autumn.  This plant may be difficult to find in nurseries.

"This species is native to the Chicago Region according to Swink and Wilhelm's Plants of the Chicago Region, with updates made according to current research."   

Botanical name: 
Dirca palustris
All Common Names: 
Leatherwood, Eastern Leatherwood
Family (English): 
Mezereum
Family (Botanic): 
Thymelaeaceae
Tree or Plant Type: 
  • Shrub
Native Locale: 
  • Chicago area
  • Illinois
  • North America
Landscape Uses: 
  • Specimen
  • Mixed border
Size Range: 
  • Medium shrub (5-8 feet)
  • Small shrub (3-5 feet)
Light Exposure: 
  • Partial sun/shade (4-6 hrs light daily)
  • Full shade (4 hrs or less of light daily)
Hardiness Zones: 
  • Zone 4
  • Zone 5
  • Zone 6
  • Zone 7
  • Zone 8
  • Zone 9
Soil Preference: 
  • Moist, well-drained soil
  • Wet soil
Planting Considerations: 
  • May be difficult to find in nurseries
Foliage: 
  • Deciduous (seasonally loses leaves)
Season of Interest: 
  • Early spring
  • Early fall
  • Mid fall
Flower Color & Fragrance: 
  • Yellow
Shape or Form: 
  • Multi-stemmed
  • Oval
  • Round
Growth Rate: 
  • Slow
More Information: 

Size and Form

5 to 8 feet high and 4 to 8 feet wide; rounded to oval dense habit.

Tree & Plant Care

Best in partial to full shade.
Protect this plant from the wind.
Requires moist to wet site; avoid dry areas.

Disease, pests and problems

No serious, scale can be a problem on stressed plants.

Native geographic location and habitat

C-Value: 10
Found primarily in wet, shady sites in eastern U. S. 

Bark color and texture 

Bark is brown, turning gray and developing raised lenticels.

Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture

Simple, alternate , light green leaves; 1 to 3 inches long with smooth margin.
Leaf out early in spring.
Fall color is a clear yellow.

The delicate flowers of leatherwood Leatherwood (Dirca palustris)photo: John Hagstrom

Flower arrangement, shape, and size

Small, yellow tubular flowers in very early spring.

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions

Small, red, berry-like fruit (drupe); not showy.