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TREES & Plants

Leatherwood

Leatherwood is an under-used native shrub with small yellow flowers in early spring and good yellow color in autumn.  This plant is difficult to find in commercial nurseries.

Botanical name: 
Dirca palustris
All Common Names: 
Leatherwood, Eastern Leatherwood
Family (English): 
Mezereum
Family (Botanic): 
Thymelaeaceae
Tree or Plant Type: 
  • Shrub
Foliage: 
  • Deciduous (foliage falls off)
Native Locale: 
  • Chicago area
  • Illinois
  • North America
Hardiness Zones: 
  • Zone 4
  • Zone 5
  • Zone 6
  • Zone 7
  • Zone 8
  • Zone 9
Growth Rate: 
  • Slow
Light Exposure: 
  • Partial shade (4-6 hrs indirect light daily)
  • Full shade (4 hrs or less of light daily)
Tolerances: 
  • Wet sites
  • Occasional flooding
  • Road salt
Soil Preference: 
  • Moist, well-drained soil
  • Wet soil
Flower Color & Fragrance: 
  • Yellow
Size Range: 
  • Medium shrub (5-8 feet)
  • Small shrub (3-5 feet)
Shape or Form: 
  • Rounded
Landscape Uses: 
  • Specimen
  • Mixed border
Time of Year: 
  • Early spring
  • Early fall
  • Mid fall
More Information: 

Size and Form

5 to 8 feet high and 4 to 8 feet wide; rounded form.

Tree & Plant Care

Protect this plant from the wind.
Requires moist to wet site; avoid dry areas.
Partial to full shade needed.

Disease, pests and problems

No serious pests

Native geographic location and habitat

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

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 an un-toothed margin.
Leaf out early in spring.
Fall color is a clear yellow.

Leatherwood (Dirca palustris)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.