Wednesday, April 7, 2010


The woodland understory is beginning to brighten with the blooming of the native shrubs. This is the bloom of the Leatherwood shrub, Dirca palustris. Not a showy bloom, but when all else is brown, a little bit of yellow really stands out.

Leatherwood is an attractive shrub that grows in shaded situations. A tall specimen might reach ten feet. I’ll bet it would make a really nice landscape plant, although some people have an allergic reaction to the bark and the fruit is said to be a narcotic. I’ll collect some seed this fall and see if I can grow some seedlings to plant around the house. Maybe I’ll learn more about the reported narcotic properties of the fruits.

The leaf bases completely surround the bud, so the next year’s growth seems to emerge from a collar formed by the old leaf scar. This makes some of the branches look as if they had been put together from an old box of spare parts.

These early leaves have a lovely mat of hairs on the back side. The hairs look almost like coconut husks. The older leaves lack this thick pubescence.

I’m always interested in what pollinates the flowers. There were a number of small bees visiting the flowers, but I was having trouble getting close enough to any for a good picture. Finally, after an agonizingly slow approach, I got within range of this fellow. Then I found out why I was so successful. An Ambush Bug has already immobilized the bee for me. I saw more ambush bugs last year than I have in the last 10 years. This may be another bumper year.

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