Sunday, July 18, 2010

Leitneria floridana - Corkwood

The one and only species of the genus Leitneria which is the lone genus in the family Leitneriaceae. It is a small suckering, spreading-crowned tree native to swamplands in the southeast U.S. where it is now extremely rare. It likely had a much wider range before the previous ice age, it is amazingly fully hardy and thrives in Ottawa, Ontario in Canada. It is now restricted to parts of Texas, the southern Mississippi Valley and Alabama, Georgia and northern Florida in the wild. In cultivation it actually grow better further north where it can also be grown in drier soil. Typically reaching about 15 feet in height, the largest on record is 32 x 8 feet in height with a trunk diameter of 6 inches.
The deciduous, smooth-margined, leathery, elliptical leaves are up to 9 x 3 ( rarely over 7 x 2 ) inches in size. They are bright green above and slightly hairy beneath. The foliage stays green until late in autumn.
The flowers are up to 1.5 inches in length and are borne in February and March. The staminate and pistellate flowers are borne on separate trees.
The ovate, pointed fruits are leathery and brown and up to 1 x 0.3 inches in size.
The bark is red-brown with shallow fissures.
The wood is extremely light, up to 13 pounds per square foot, making it easily floatable and lighter than cork.
Hardy zones 4 to 9 and requires acidic soil, it is salt tolerant. An excellent ornamental tree for wet or flood prone areas such as parks along riverfronts, floodplains and the edges of ponds. Propagation is from seed soaked in water then cold stratified for 3 months.

* photos taken on 4th of July 2010 @ U.S. National Arboretum, D.C.

* historic archive photo

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