Dirca palustris (Leatherwood)

Plant Info
Also known as: Eastern Leatherwood
Family:Thymelaeaceae (Mezereum)
Life cycle:perennial woody
Habitat:part shade, shade; average to moist soil; rich deciduous woods, ravines, wooded slopes, wooded bluffs, river bottoms
Bloom season:April - May
Plant height:3 to 6 feet
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: FAC MW: FAC NCNE: FAC
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

Pick an image for a larger view. See the glossary for icon descriptions.

Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: tubular

[photo of flowers] Clusters of 2 to 6 flowers (usually 3) arise from hairy buds on 1-year-old twigs, emerging before the leaves in early spring. Flowers are pale yellow, narrowly tubular with 4 shallow lobes, ¼ to 1/3 inch long. Protruding from the tube are 8 long, white stamens with yellow-orange tips and a slender, white style that elongates beyond the stamens. The hairy bud scales persist until the flowers fade.

Leaves and stems: Leaf attachment: alternate Leaf type: simple

[photo of leaf] Leaves are alternate, 1½ to 3 inches long, 1 to 2 inches wide, toothless, egg-shaped to oval to nearly diamond-shaped in outline, often widest above the middle, usually blunt at the tip, and stalkless to short-stalked. Surfaces are usually hairless, though the undersides may be woolly-hairy when young and a few hairs may persist especially along the veins.

[photo of twig and emerging bud] New twigs are mostly hairless, green turning red-brown to gray-brown the second year, and have distinctive enlarged nodes that form a flat ring around the bud and give the twig a jointed appearance. Twigs are very flexible and virtually unbreakable. Older bark on larger branches and the trunk is gray to brown, leathery, smooth or somewhat rough near the base. Stems are usually single, up to 3 inches diameter at the base, and many-branched from near the base with a crown about as wide as tall.

Fruit: Fruit type: capsule/pod

[photo of developing fruit] Fruit is a berry-like drupe, oval-elliptic, up to about ½ inch long, green drying to purplish, each containing a single, shiny black seed.


Leatherwood is a fitting common name, since the bark and twigs are tough but extremely flexible. Minnesota is at the western edge of its range. It is one of the most shade-tolerant shrubs and can thrive under a dense forest canopy, though it also performs well in a sunnier landscape. Queen bees pollinate the flowers in early spring and the fruit is mature by early summer. It is not easily confused with any other species. While the leaves may resemble any number of woody species, the jointed twigs that are so pliable they can be tied in a knot without breaking is a pretty diagnostic characteristic. But beware that it can also cause contact dermatitis.

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka taken at Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden, Hennepin County, and Vermillion Falls, Dakota County. Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in Aitkin and Hennepin counties.


Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Posted by: Doug Rorer - Stillwater, MN
on: 2018-06-02 15:28:47

This shrub is available at Outback Nursery in Hastings, MN. I bought one and planted in my yard. It really does well in deep shade.

Posted by: Jacque Behrens - Minneapolis
on: 2019-04-19 21:42:24

Just realized I had one of these in my yard urban. Bought the house a few years ago but this is the first spring I noticed the blooms.

Posted by: Jutta Karin Schultz - Grand Rapids/Cohasset
on: 2019-05-04 22:49:22

We found this blooming very happily in the ski trails at Sugar Hills! It was beautiful against the bare trees in the woods. Such a delicate looking plant to see.

Posted by: Janet Van Sloun - BLOOMINGTON
on: 2022-02-23 17:40:03

In the notes for this spp, you say "beware that it can also cause contact dermatitis." Have you experienced this? I have had one on my property since 1990. I cut flower branches to put in spring vases, and brush into my large shrub all the time. No ill effects. BTW: your 2006 image by PD is in my front yard (must have been a nursery inspection.) You have one of it's progeny in the border north of your house :-). Beltrami County seed source.

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2022-02-24 08:02:44

Janet, I have never experienced a reaction myself but I don't react to poison ivy much, either. Sensitivity is likely variable.

Posted by: SeanR - St Paul
on: 2022-04-30 14:40:26

Blooming now in the Shadow Falls Park ravine. The only color yet this spring.

Posted by: Mary Ellen Murphy - Minneapolis
on: 2023-05-27 10:51:52

My first Dirca is about 10 years old. Now I have three, two that are babies from the original shrub. Since then I have shared many babies with friends. This year I am noting that the oldest Dirca has significantly smaller leaves than the younger two shrubs. Does anyone know what could be causing the smaller leaves? I might have said it was due to the extremely snowy winter. But the two younger shrubs that are located next to the older shrub have the normal size leaves. Can anyone explain why my oldest Dirca has small leaves?

Posted by: Leah Darnell - Duluth MN
on: 2023-07-28 20:10:29

We recently built a home on a 1.5 acre wooded lot. There are several on the property. Was this planted by someone or is it native?

Posted by: K Chayka
on: 2023-07-29 06:55:59

Leah, if you look at the county distribution map you'll see it's been recorded across northern Minnesota, so it likely was not intentionally planted in your woods.

Posted by: Nancy - Stillwater
on: 2023-09-07 17:25:09

I have a Dirca plant. Do I need another for pollination?

Posted by: K Chayka
on: 2023-09-07 19:42:55

Nancy, rumor has it Dirca is self-fertile, so you should not need two plants. If you purchased it, you should check with the vendor, who should know about propagation.

Posted by: Bill Blegen - Crosslake Minnesota
on: 2023-09-17 09:33:37

I have these growing in dense shade 4 to 5 feet high.

Posted by: Barb Spears - Grand Rapids
on: 2023-11-18 11:01:51

I just moved to Grand Rapids from the Cities and discovered several shrubs on my property. I haven't seen one in years and am thrilled to host this shrub!

Posted by: Jordan Wilson - Stearns County
on: 2023-11-18 15:57:55

There are a great number of these little trees at Partch Woods SNA.

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