Chamaedaphne calyculata
Leatherleaf

Alaska Wildflowers | White

Camaedaphne calyculata Leatherleaf

Chamaedaphne calyculata
Leatherleaf

Common Names

cassandre caliculé
cassandre
chamédaphné calyculé
faux bleuets
petit-daphné caliculé
leatherleaf
cassandra
dwarf cassandra

Synonyms

Andromeda calyculata
Andromeda calyculata var. angustifolia
Andromeda calyculata var. latifolia
Andromeda calyculata var. nana
Chamaedaphne calyculata var. angustifolia
Chamaedaphne calyculata var. latifolia
Chamaedaphne calyculata var. nana
Cassandra calyculata var. angustifolia
Cassandra calyculata var. latifolia
Cassandra calyculata

Subspecies

none

Genus: Chamaedaphne
Family: Eridaceae (heaths)
Order: Ericales
taxonomic heirarchy

Duration – Growth Habit

Perennial – Shrub

Identification and Information

Chamaedaphne calyculata, commonly known as leatherleaf, is an evergreen perennial low shrub in the heath family (Ericaceae). It grows from deep rhizomes. The shrub’s stems are erect and very branched, growing to 1.5 m in height, although more commonly about up to 60 cm. The evergreen leaves are oblanceolate to oblong or elliptic with a rounded or blunt tip, olive green above and lighter green below, alternate on the stem with a 1.5-3 mm petiole, minutely toothed, scaly, and leathery (from which it gets its name).



The inflorescence occurs in a one-sided, linear, leafy terminal raceme, the flowers hanging from the stems like little bells. The flowers are white and urn-shaped, with two bracts at the base of the calyx (sepals). They have five sepals, 2-3 mm long, about 1/3-1/2 as long as the corolla. The white corolla (petals) is cylindric with a slightly narrowed throat, 4.5-7 mm long, with rolled-up lips. The fruits are globe-shaped, reddish capsules, 3-5 mm wide, that split to release many seeds.

The flower buds are formed on leafy shoots during the first year and remain dormant until the following spring. These buds require adequate snow cover for protection over winter to ensure their survival and subsequent flowering early in the season. By midsummer, after 1.5 growing seasons, the plants successfully produce seeds. Seeds are dispersed when wind, rain, or animals disturb the mature, dehiscent capsules, releasing them from the slits.


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Uses

For information only (typically historical) – I take no responsibility for adverse effects from the use of any plant.

A few sources, including Plants of the Western Forest, report that boiling the plant releases andromedotoxin, which can be fatally poisonous. Despite this, the fresh or dry leaves are used to make sun tea by soaking in cold water rather than boiling (Ojibwa). The Potawatomi used a poultice of the leaves for inflammation and an infusion of leaves for fevers.

It is also a common ornamental plant.


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Distribution and Habitat

Map data from the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF), NatureServe Explorer, and Kew

Chamaedaphne calyculata has a circumboreal distribution across Alaska, all of Canada, Siberia, Finland, Sweden, North and South Korea, Mongolia, and China. Its range extends into the lower 48 in the US, mainly northern central and northeastern states.

Its distribution includes disjunct populations in the mountains of North Carolina and coastal plains extending to northeastern South Carolina, likely remnants of a broader range during the Pleistocene.

Its habitat is primarily low-elevation boreal peatlands, black spruce muskeg, and along streams.

Classification

RankScientific Name (Common Name)
KingdomPlantae (plantes, Planta, Vegetal, plants)
SubkingdomViridiplantae (green plants)
InfrakingdomStreptophyta (land plants)
SuperdivisionEmbryophyta 
DivisionTracheophyta (vascular plants, tracheophytes)
SubdivisionSpermatophytina (spermatophytes, seed plants, phanérogames)
ClassMagnoliopsida 
SuperorderAsteranae 
OrderEricales 
FamilyEricaceae (heaths, éricacées)
GenusChamaedaphne Moench (leatherleaf)
SpeciesChamaedaphne calyculata (L.) Moench (leatherleaf)

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References and Further Reading

Guidebook

Pratt, V. E. (1989). Field Guide to Alaskan Wildflowers: Commonly Seen Along Highways and Byways (p. 60). Alaskakrafts, inc.

Johnson, D., Kershaw, L., & MacKinnon, A. (2020). Plants of the Western Forest: Alaska to Minnesota Boreal and Aspen Parkland (3rd ed., p. 69). Partners Publishing. ISBN 978-1772130591.

Classification and Taxonomy

ITIS (2024). Chamaedaphne calyculata. Retrieved from https://www.itis.gov/servlet/SingleRpt/SingleRpt?search_topic=TSN&search_value=23637#null

Canadensys (2024). Chamaedaphne calyculata. Retrieved from https://data.canadensys.net/vascan/taxon/5504?lang=en

USDA PLANTS (2024). Chamaedaphne calyculata. Retrieved from https://plants.usda.gov/home/plantProfile?symbol=CHCA2

Uses

Native American Ethnobotany Database (2024). Chamaedaphne calyculata. Retrieved from http://naeb.brit.org/uses/search/?string=Chamaedaphne+calyculata

Map and Distribution

GBIF (2024). Chamaedaphne calyculata. Retrieved from https://www.gbif.org/species/5333436

Plants of the World Online (2024). Chamaedaphne calyculata. Retrieved from https://powo.science.kew.org/taxon/urn:lsid:ipni.org:names:1058520-2

NatureServe Explorer (2024). Chamaedaphne calyculata. Retrieved from https://explorer.natureserve.org/Taxon/ELEMENT_GLOBAL.2.152623/Chamaedaphne_calyculata

Description and Information

Flora of North America (2024). Chamaedaphne calyculata. Retrieved from http://floranorthamerica.org/Chamaedaphne_calyculata

Hultén, E. (1968). Flora of Alaska and Neighboring Territories: A Manual of the Vascular Plants (1st ed.) (pg. 727). Stanford University Press.

Alaska Center for Conservation Science (2024). Chamaedaphne calyculata. Retrieved from https://ecologicalatlas.uaf.edu/index.php/browse-plant-species/atlas-page/?nps_id=473

E-Flora BC (2024). Chamaedaphne calyculata. Retrieved from https://linnet.geog.ubc.ca/Atlas/Atlas.aspx?sciname=Chamaedaphne%20calyculata

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