Pale Yellow Blooms in the Early Spring Forest

By William T. Hathaway


When strolling through woodlands in early March, few of us expect to see any flowering shrubs in bloom. However, from early March to mid-April a somewhat rare shrub may unfold its pale yellow flowers. The somber tree trunks and brown leaf litter, typical of an early springtime forest, may obscure these flowers which have developed on the terminal branches of the shrub before the appearance of leaves. Over the years I have had the pleasure of recognizing this shrub as Leatherwood, having seen it in more than six far-separated locations within Pittsylvania County.

Leatherwood is a small shrub which may reach a bit over 3 ft. in height. Its soft and brittle wood plus its unusually tough, fibrous bark must have appealed to the Indians. They stripped the bark to be used as thongs in the manufacture of various implements, whence the popular name Leatherwood. This shrub is also called Rope-bark, Moosewood and Wicopy.