Chamaedaphne calyculata (L.) Moench
Cassandra calyculata (L.) D. Don var. angustifolia (Aiton) Seymour
Cassandra calyculata (L.) D. Don var. latifolia (Aiton) Seymour
Chamaedaphne calyculata (L.) Moench var. angustifolia (Aiton) Rehder
Chamaedaphne calyculata (L.) Moench var. latifolia (Aiton) Fernald
Chamaedaphne calyculata (L.) Moench var. nana (Lodd.) E. Busch
Leatherleaf is circumboreal—it is native to northern regions around the world.
Identification: Plants are multiply branched shrubs 12-59" (30-150 cm) in height, with roots that extend about 12" (30 cm) into soggy soil. They are found in dense, floating mats of sphagnum in fresh water, or along edges of water, especially bogs. Leaves are alternate, unlobed, sometimes toothed, leathery, elliptical to broadly lanceolate, ⅜-1¾" (1-5 cm) × ⅛-⅝" (5-17 mm). Leaf edges are slightly curled downward. Flowers are ¼" (6.3 mm) in size, white, and urn-shaped, similar to those of blueberries. They occur in long racemes and hang one-sided, like bells, and appear from April to July. Buds are covered with tiny, brown scales. Fruits are round, reddish capsules.
Edibility: Some native North Americans brewed tea from fresh or dry leaves, but boiling may release enough grayanotoxin I, also called “andromedotoxin,” to be toxic. (The same substance is found in some rhododendrons.) Although grayanotoxin I poisoning is rarely fatal, it probably isn’t what you had in mind from a cup of tea, and steeping the leaves in a jar of water in a sunny spot, instead of boiling, was said to minimize this problem.
Chamaedaphne calyculata at the University of Wisconsin's Robert W. Freckmann Herbarium
Chamaedaphne calyculata on the USDA Forest Service's Fire Effects Information Database
Chamaedaphne calyculata on the Connecticut Botanical Society's Connecticut wildflowers site
Chamaedaphne calyculata on Plants for a Future, a resource and information centre for edible and otherwise useful plants
Chamaedaphne calyculata on eFloras
Chamaedaphne calyculata description by Thomas H. Kent, last updated 12 Oct 2018.
Range: Zones 3-7: