Leatherleaf (Chamaedaphne calyculata)

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Leatherleaf plant in flower

Top facts

  • The leatherleaf gained its common name due to its thick, evergreen leaves.
  • The leatherleaf is very common in bogs and wetland areas.
  • This range of the leatherleaf encompasses many countries from Canada to China.
  • Wetland type habitats are susceptible to conversion to agriculture or other purposes, threatening the leatherleaf.
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Leatherleaf fact file

Leatherleaf description

KingdomPlantae
PhylumTracheophyta
ClassMagnoliopsida
OrderEricales
FamilyEricaceae
GenusChamaedaphne (1)

The leatherleaf (Chamaedaphne calyculata) is a perennial, evergreen shrub, with oblong or elliptic leaves that have finely toothed edges and grow alternately from the stems, forming dense thickets (2) (3). The common name is a reference to the tough evergreen leaves of this species, the lower surfaces of which are covered with tiny brownish scales (2). The flowers of this plant are white and urn-shaped (3) and the fruits are woody grey-brown capsules that persist throughout winter (2).

Also known as
Cassandra.
Synonyms
Andromeda calyculata, Cassandra calyculata, Hydragonum calyculatum.
Size
Height: 0.3 - 1.5 m (2)
Leaf length: 1.5 - 5 cm (2)
Flower length: 0.6 - 0.7 cm (2)
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Leatherleaf biology

The leatherleaf flowers from April to June and fruits in late summer (2) (5). When flowers of this species are cross-pollinated, the plant produces many seeds, but when they are self-pollinated, just a few seeds are produced (2). This plant can also reproduce asexually through creeping rhizomes (2).

The leatherleaf is often the first shrub to enter a bog after sphagnum moss has colonised, and establishes itself as the primary shrub (2). It is intolerant of shade, and becomes rarer as taller shrubs such as tamarack (Larix laricina) and black spruce (Picea mariana) establish themselves within the habitat (2). Recurrent fire has been suggested as a primary factor for the persistence of leatherleaf as a dominant plant, as this species’ deep rhizomes allow it to quickly recover from fire damage (2). The rapid growth and persistence of the leatherleaf allow it to revegetate large areas of bog that have been stripped for commercial peat removal (2) (3).

Leatherleaf is used for nesting and cover by wildlife including the ruffed grouse (Bonasa umbellus) and mallard (Anas platyrhynchos), it is eaten by sharp-tailed grouse (Tympanuchus phasianellus), white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus), caribou (Rangifer tarandus) and moose (Alces alces) (2).

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Leatherleaf range

The leatherleaf’s range is circumboreal and includes most of Canada and much of the north-eastern United States as well as central and northern Europe, Russia, China, and Japan (2) (3) (4).

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Leatherleaf habitat

The leatherleaf is very common in boreal bogs, swamps, lake and stream margins, and shrub swamps (2) where it is usually found growing on wet, acidic sphagnum mats floating on water (2) (3). It can be the dominant species of shrub in certain bogs (2).

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Leatherleaf status

The leatherleaf has not yet been assessed by the IUCN.

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Leatherleaf threats

There are not currently thought to be any threats to the leatherleaf, however, all wetland and bog species are threatened by habitat loss as these environments are relatively vulnerable to pollution and conversion (6) (7) . Since 1600, around half of the original wetlands in the United States have been drained and converted, equating to an area of around 445,000 square kilometres (7). Wetlands or bogs may also be more susceptible to degradation as they are often small and isolated (6) (8).

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Leatherleaf conservation

It has been suggested that carefully managing wetland or bog habitats is a very important conservation measure for the species found in them, such as the leatherleaf (8). In the United States, some wetlands are regulated by the federal government under the Clean Water Act of 1972, and farmers who modify existing wetlands may lose their benefits from the United States Department of Agriculture. The United States Fish & Wildlife Service’s National Wetlands Inventory produces in depth reports and surveys of the extent and quality of wetlands in the United States (9), and since 1989 a ‘no net loss policy’ has ensured that the overall area covered by wetlands in the United States remains near its current level (9).

The leatherleaf is classified as threatened in Illinois and Maryland in the United States and this gives this species protection from deliberate human damage in these locations (10). As the leatherleaf has a vast range and persistent nature, it is not thought to be threatened with extinction currently (5), although climate change may reduce the size and number of suitable habitats for this species in the future (8).

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Find out more

Find out more about the status of wetlands in Northern America:

Find out more about plant conservation in North America:

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Authentication

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

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Glossary

Asexually
Of asexual reproduction: reproduction that does not involve the formation of sex cells (‘gametes’). In many species, asexual reproduction can occur by existing cells splitting into two, or part of the organism breaking away and developing into a separate individual. Some animals, including vertebrates, can also develop from unfertilised eggs; this process, known as parthenogenesis, gives rise to offspring that are genetically identical to the parent.
Boreal
Areas at high northern latitudes surrounding the North Pole.
Cross-pollination
The transfer of pollen between flowers on different plants.
Evergreen
A plant which retains leaves all year round. This is in contrast to deciduous plants, which completely lose their leaves for part of the year.
Perennial
A plant that normally lives for more than two years. After an initial period, the plant usually produces flowers once a year.
Rhizome
An underground, horizontal plant stem that produces roots and shoots.
Self-pollination
The transfer of pollen from the stamen (male part) of a flower, to the stigma (female part) of the same flower, or a different flower on the same plant.
Sphagnum
A moss of the genus Sphagnum, which typically grows in bogs and whose decomposed remains contribute to the formation of peat.
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References

  1. Catalogue of Life (May, 2014)
    http://www.catalogueoflife.org/
  2. United States Department of Agriculture Plant Guide - Leatherleaf (May, 2014)
    http://plants.usda.gov/plantguide/pdf/pg_chca2.pdf
  3. United States Forest Service - Chamaedaphne calyculata (May, 2014)
    http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/plants/shrub/chacal/all.html
  4. United States Department of Agriculture - Chamaedaphne calyculata (May, 2014)
    http://www.ars-grin.gov/cgi-bin/npgs/html/taxon.pl?10105
  5. Ohio Department of Natural Resources Plant Abstracts - Chamaedaphne calyculata (May, 2014)
    http://naturepreserves.ohiodnr.gov/portals/dnap/pdf/Rare_Plant_Abstracts/Chamaedaphne_calyculata.pdf
  6. United States Forest Service - Wet Meadows (May, 2014)
    http://www.fs.fed.us/psw/publications/reports/psw_sciencesynthesis2013/psw_sciencesynthesis2013_6_3.pdf
  7. United States Environmental Protection Agency - Wetlands (May, 2014)
    http://water.epa.gov/type/wetlands/vital_status.cfm
  8. Pennsylvania Natural Heritage Programme - Leatherleaf bog-rosemary bog (May, 2014)
    http://www.naturalheritage.state.pa.us/docs/community/leatherleaf%20%E2%80%93%20bog-rosemary%20bog.pdf
  9. United States Fish & Wildlife Service, National Wetlands Inventory - Status and Trends of Wetlands in the Conterminous United States 2004 to 2009 (May, 2014)
    http://www.fws.gov/wetlands/Documents/Status-and-Trends-of-Wetlands-in-the-Conterminous-United-States-2004-to-2009.pdf
  10. United States Department of Agriculture - Chamaedaphne calyculata (May, 2014)
    http://plants.usda.gov/core/profile?symbol=chca2
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Image credit

Leatherleaf plant in flower  
Leatherleaf plant in flower

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