Chamaedaphne calyculata

Leatherleaf

Leatherleaf, photo courtesy of David H. Firmage

Leatherleaf, photo courtesy of David H. Firmage

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The natural history of the northwoods


Name:

  • Chamaedaphne, from the Greek camaidafnh (chamaidaphne), the name for the common Periwinkle (Vinca herbacea), a compound of camai (chamai) "on the ground" and dafnh (daphne), the name for the Sweet Bay Laurel (Laurus nobilis), hence "ground laurel", perhaps from the similarity of the dark evergreen leaves to those of the Bay.
  • calyculata, diminutive form from the Greek kalux (kalux), "husk, covering, calyx", hence "with little calyx"
  • Common Name, from the tough, evergreen leaf
  • Other common names include Cassandra, Finnmyrten (Swe), Finnmyrt (Nor), Læderløv (Dan), Vaivero (Finn), Chamedafne pó³nocna (Pol)

Taxonomy:

  • Kingdom Plantae, the Plants
  • Taxonomic Serial Number: 23637
  • Also known as Andromeda calyculata, Cassandra calyculata, Chamaepericlymenum canadensis

Description:

  • A low, evergreen, rhizomatous shrublet, 12"- 48" [Photo]
  • Leaves leathery, simple, alternate, and more-or-less evenly spaced on branch. Leaf blade symmetrical, ¾"-1½" long, ¼"-¾" wide; upper surface bright yellow green; lower surface dark orange yellow.
  • Stem woody
    • Branches many, forming dense thickets.
    • Rhizome woody, extends an average of 12" into organic matter
  • Roots fibrous
  • Flowers tiny white bell shaped in one-sided racemes of 1-15 or more
    • Sepals 5, white or orange
    • Petals 5, white
    • Stamens 10
    • Pistils single
    • Ovary superior (within blossom)
  • Fruit persistent, many-seeded capsules
  • Seed tiny (1mm or less) wedge-shaped, yellowish orange

Identification:

  • Identifiable as an Ericaceous bog shrub by its shape, size, and habitat
  • Distinguished from other bog shrubs by its bright, smooth edged, yellow green, and leathery leaf
  • Field Marks
    • Wetland habitat
    • Bright yellow green leaf

Distribution:

  • Circumboreal; Northern North America southward through the Lake States and the northeastern US

Habitat:

  • A dominant shrub in dwarf shrub wetland communities, occurring in pure stands on floating mats and in mixed stands that are grounded. Forms the most extensive communities in the bogs of the Lake States.
  • A true bog species found in practically all boreal bogs; occurs in lowland sites, treed or treeless bogs, peatlands, sedge fens and meadows, black spruce muskegs, and kettle pond edges. Commonly occurs in drier areas on sedge mats that may be floating or in wet peat up to 43' thick.
  • Sites are often poorly drained or have standing water. Acid tolerant and usually occurring where the pH is less than 5; it needs acidic conditions to become dominant.
  • First shrub to enter a bog after sphagnum is established. Leatherleaf is characteristic of the mature and late stages of moss/low ericaceous shrub communities as open water in a bog disappears. It may dominate for 50 years in some communities. Shade intolerant; it begins to thin as tall shrubs or bog forest species such as Tamarack (Larix laricina) or Black Spruce (Picea mariana) become established.
  • Bogs, swamps, lake and stream margins, inland poor fens, and dwarf shrub bogs. The dominant species in shrub associations on some bogs. It usually grows on wet sphagnum mats over water. The soil is wet (or occasionally dry) peat with a pH of 4.5-6.

Fire:

  • Probably survives severe fires because rhizomes are deep in water-saturated substrates and its stems are matted in debris. Surviving root crowns and rhizomes sprout.

Associates:

History:

  • A tea was made from fresh and dried leaves by the Ojibwe

Uses:

Reproduction:

  • Reproduces by seed and vegetatively by rhizomes.
  • Flowers from March to July from buds formed the previous season.
  • Moist sphagnum surrounding leatherleaf shoots, roots, and rhizomes causes vigorous vegetative growth. Sphagnum grows on leatherleaf stems and branches but does not inhibit growth. Ice breakage can result in rapid expansion of colonies. It also establishes well in windfall areas.
  • Primarily fertilized by Adrena and Bombus bees. Seed set usually high (50-95%) when insect pollinated; low seed set (1-15%) when self-pollinated. Seeds germinate on sphagnum or sedge mats.
  • Fruits develop in late summer and fall

Propagation:

  • By division in Fall or by branch layering. Also by stem cuttings.
  • Propagation by seed is possible, but difficult. Seeds require cold stratification to break dormancy

Cultivation:

  • Hardy to USDA Zone 2 (average minimum annual temperature -50ºF)
  • Cultural Requirements
    • Sun full
    • Soil wet to moist and acidic (pH 4.5 -5); preferably peaty or lime-free sandy loam.
    • Will not tolerate dry or shady conditions
  • Size 2'-4'W x 2'-4'H
  • Good for native rock gardens, bog gardens
  • Available by mail order though not common.

Links:

Comments:

  • Leatherleaf is easily the most commonly encountered bog shrub in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. If you've been there you've seen it.

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Last updated on 27 August, 2004