The Washington Times-Herald

Columns

March 18, 2014

Twigs give Leatherwood its name

One of our lesser known Indiana shrubs also has a rather unusual name. This is the leatherwood. A usually short shrub, it only grows to a height of around six feet, leatherwood receives its name from the soft leather-like twigs that extend out from the trunk of the plant.

These stems have been utilized in the crafting of ornamental baskets that once could be found in small town gift and novelty shops. I have not seen a leatherwood basket in years. Do any of you still have one or is it a thing of the past?

The leatherwood is found in scattered sites all across Indiana. There is a Leatherwood Creek in Lawrence County east of Bedford. I have never looked along this stream for this shrub, but I’m sure there is or has been leatherwood plants growing there. If you know, would you please let me know.

Not a common shrub in Indiana, I have found a few in Harrison and Crawford counties. One site had several growing along a small stream. This plant likes a moist, rich site and is not usually found growing elsewhere.

Leatherwood leaves are alternate and can be up to four inches in length. The bad part in looking for this shrub is it looks like a lot of other small plants one will find growing in its choice habitat. One way to find a leatherwood is to look for its fruit. They are one-half inch long drupes, green in color that only has one seed hidden inside the drupe.

One has to look early in the spring to find the leatherwood fruit as it appears in late April or early May, long before most plants have their fruits. Another thing to look for in the search for a leatherwood grove is its flowers.

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