fbpx Leatherwood | The Morton Arboretum


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):


Family (Botanic):


Tree or Plant Type:

  • Shrub

Native Locale:

  • Chicago area,
  • Illinois,
  • North America

Landscape Uses:

  • Mixed border,
  • Specimen

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 (Chicago),
  • Zone 6,
  • Zone 7,
  • Zone 8,
  • Zone 9

Soil Preference:

  • Moist, well-drained soil,
  • Wet soil


  • Wet sites,
  • Occasional flooding,
  • Road salt

Seasons 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 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

Alternate , simple, light green leaves; 1 to 3 inches long with smooth margin.
Leaves emerge in early spring.
Fall color is a clear yellow.

Leatherwood (Dirca palustris)
Leatherwood (Dirca palustris)
photo: John Hagstrom

Flower arrangement, shape, and size

Small, yellow tubular flowersappear with leaves in very early spring.

Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions

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


Location of Dirca palustris (Leatherwood) at the Arboretum