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Standard Cyclopedia of Horticulture

Dirca (Dirke, mythological name; also a spring near Thebes). Thymelaeacea. Leatherwood. Two North American small early-blooming shrubs, sometime's planted.

Bushes with tough fibrous bark, alternate, thin short entire petiolate deciduous lvs., apetalous perfect fls. in peduncled fascicles of the previous season's growth, the branches developing subsequently from the same nodes: calyx corolla-like, yellowish, campanulate, undulately obscurely 4-toothed, bearing twice as many exserted stamens as its lobes (usually 8); ovary nearly sessile, free, 1-loculed, with a single hanging ovule; style exserted, filiform: fr. berry-like, oval-oblong. The dircas often have the habit of miniature trees. The bark is of interlaced strong fibers, and branches are so tough and flexible that they may be bent into hoops and thongs without breaking, and were so used by the Indians and early settlers. The leatherwood is not one of the showiest of hardy shrubs, but its small yellowish fls. are abundant enough to make it attractive, and it deserves cult, especially for the earliness of its bloom in spring. It is of slow growth, and when planted singly makes a very shapely specimen; planted in masses or under shade it assumes a straggling habit. It thrives in any moist loam. Prop. by seeds, which are abundant and germinate readily; also by layers.

D. occidentdlis, Gray. A similar species found on northerly slopes of cafions in Calif., differs mainly in the deeper calyx-lobes, lower insertion of the stamens, sessile fls., and white involucre; blooms Nov.-Feb. Not in the trade, but worthy of cult. A. Phelps Wyman.

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Dirca palustris
Dirca palustris
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Order: Malvales
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Family: Thymelaeaceae
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Dirca mexicana

Dirca occidentalis
Dirca palustris


Dirca is a genus of three species of flowering plants in the family Thymelaeaceae, native to North America. The genus is named after Dirce in Greek mythology. The general common name of this shrub is Leatherwood; others include moosewood, ropebark and wicopy.

There are three species in the genus, all deciduous shrubs. Dirca palustris is an uncommon but widespread species that grows throughout eastern North America while D. occidentalis grows in a few counties in the San Francisco Bay area of California. The third, D. mexicana, found in northeastern Mexico, was only described for the first time in the 1990s.

Dirca palustris, which grows to a maximum height of about three meters, is found in rich woods and is occasionally cultivated. The species name, "palustris", means "of the swamps". The shrub is often hard to recognize because the flowers last such a short time and it may be mixed in with the much more frequent Spicebush which also has small yellow flowers which appear before the leaves at just about the same time in the early spring.

The branches are very pliable and have been used in the past as thongs. Some people have tied the branches of a living shrub in a knot without their breaking. Thoreau refers to it as the Indian's rope. Though listed in some poisonous plant publications, its toxicity is said to be low. The berries are said to be narcotic.[citation needed]

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