Vascular Plants of North Carolina
Account for Eastern Leatherwood - Dirca palustris   L.Only member of Dirca in NC.
Google Images
Section 6 » Order Myrtales » Family Thymelaeaceae
Show/Hide Synonym
DistributionWidely scattered over the Piedmont and Mountains, though apparently absent from the northeastern corner of the Piedmont (east of Wake and Person counties). Hardly any records for the northwestern Piedmont, for unknown reasons (but not due to a lack of searching).

This is a primarily Northern species, ranging from eastern Canada south to the panhandle of FL and to LA. However, it is scarce south of SC and parts of AL.
AbundanceRare to very uncommon, in both the Piedmont and lower Mountains; very rare (at about 4500 feet in Ashe County) to absent at higher elevations. This is an NC NHP Watch List species.
HabitatThis species is restricted to mesic to moist circumneutral (high pH) soil, and thus it has a narrow range of suitable sites in the state. It favors Basic Mesic Forest natural community in the Piedmont, and Rich Cove Forest in the lower Mountains. It also occurs in very rich bottomlands and at times on rich soils of natural levee forests.
See also Habitat Account for Rich Wet-Mesic Hardwood Forests
PhenologyBlooms in March and April, before or just as the leaves emerge. Fruits (seldom seen) in June and July.
IdentificationThis is a highly distinctive, fairly low deciduous shrub with many notable identifying features. Though it only grows to an average height of 3-5 feet, it has a single trunk, looking almost like a “bonsai” tree. It has alternate and somewhat elliptic to diamond-shaped, entire leaves that are rounded at the tip; they grow to about 2-2.5 inches long. The twigs are extremely flexible and impossible to break! They are often dull gold-colored and have swollen nodes; thus, even in winter this shrub can be identified by the odd twigs. Even though the flowers are fairly small, they are light yellow and typically grow in clusters of two to four, hanging downward from leaf axils. As they appear before the leaves, a small shrub with small yellow flowers in bloom before the leaves appear should only be this species or Common Spicebush (Lindera benzoin), which has breakable twigs that have a fragrant smell.
Taxonomic CommentsThis is one of only four species in the genus and the only one in the eastern U.S.

Other Common Name(s)Leatherwood, Ropebark, Wicopy, Leatherbark. Most older references call it simply as Leatherwood, but newer ones prefer to add a modifier to distinguish it from the other three named Dirca species in the Western states. Nonetheless, as this is the only one in NC, it is certainly fine to simply call it “Leatherwood” in species reports and general accounts.
State RankS3
Global RankG4
State StatusW1
US Status
USACE-agcpFACU link
USACE-empFAC link
County Map - click on a county to view source of record.
Photo Gallery
B.A. SorrieLee County, 2021, Deep River E of Rocky River, basic mesic forest. LeePhoto_natural
Select a source
Select an occurrence type