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Plant of the Week: Dirca palustris

Plant of the Week! It might not have showy flowers, a grand stature, or particularly unusual features, but this plant geek 🙋‍♀️ cannot get enough of Dirca palustris, Leatherwood! An understory shrub, it typically has an open form in the wild (such as the first photo), but it is just as at home in the residential landscape, where it can be beautifully branched and symmetrical, (see second photo, from Minnesota Wild Flowers,https://www.minnesotawildflowers.info/shrub/leatherwood ). Leatherwood has very large, beautiful green leaves that turn bright yellow in fall, and Illinois Wildflowers (https://www.illinoiswildflowers.info/trees/plants/leatherwood.html) aptly describes it as “abundantly branched”. Look closer, and you’ll see that Leatherwood has unusual twigs with rounded, swollen joints. The twigs are incredibly pliable and almost unbreakable. They are host to a plethora of pollinators, including mason bees, carpenter bees, cuckoo bees, and the Mourning Cloak butterfly. And, they perform well in both sun and shade! Unfortunately, Leatherwood is not widely available in nurseries. If you’re lucky enough to find a reputable nursery that carries them, take some home and plant them in a medium to moist spot with protection from the wind.

Leatherwood in an old-growth Hemlock forest

Dirca palustris in the cultivated landscape – photo from Minnesota Wildflowers (https://www.minnesotawildflowers.info/shrub/leatherwood)

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