Winter Shrub ID: Leatherleaf

Photo of Leatherleaf branches

Leatherleaf (Chamaedaphne calyculata) grows in moist or boggy ground and stands about three feet tall, so it's no wonder I rarely bump into this shrub by accident. But with winter conditions allowing for easy access to otherwise muddy areas, I explored a wetland along the Ten Mile River in Plainville and found a small stand of Leatherleaf. This broad-leaf shrub has evergreen leaves that are less than 2" long.  While not conspicuous at a distance, up-close the leaves are distinctive.  They diminish in size as they approach branch tips and have undersides covered with scales.

Photo of Leatherleaf Fruit

The fruits are five-parted dry capsules, similar in some respects to Swamp Deciduous Dog-laurel. The patch I found was growing among sedge hummocks and a sparse colony of Cat-tails with woody neighbors Sweetgale (Myrica gale), Speckled Alder and Coastal Sweet-pepperbush. Two Wood Ducks (uncommon this early in the year) took flight from open water nearby where Mallards could be heard quacking. Along the margins of the flowing river, Great Blue Heron hunted silently. Warmed by the sun, I crouched in the snow and took in the beauty of it all.

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