Tree Notes is about trees -- especially native trees, trees for wildlife, and trees in history.

Monday, November 26, 2007

The corkwood tree

Leitneria floridana


The Florida corkwood (Leitneria floridana) is an interesting and rare North American tree. I'm calling it a tree, but sources disagree whether it is a tree or a shrub. Many compromise by calling it a "shrub or small tree."

As you might suspect, the corkwood is a tree with very light wood. In fact, its wood is about 13 pounds per cubic foot, even lighter than cork. In the areas where it grows, it has been often been used for corks and fishing floats by the local residents.

I don't think I've ever seen corkwood, or if I have, I didn't know what it was. If you look at the photos at the USDA Plants database, you'll know as much as I do about its appearance.

I'll suspect that it might be corkwood if I ever happen upon a dense thicket of smooth-barked woody tree-shrubs in the swamp, 12 to 20 feet in height, with long stems, very short branches, and shiny, thick leaves that have reddish stems.

Corkwood is not often seen. "It occurs rarely and locally along tidewater river and in swamps from southeastern Georgia and western Florida to southeastern Texas; and also in parts of Arkansas and Missouri." (from William Carey Grimm's Book of Trees -- see bibliographic info at bottom of the column.)

The Center for Plant Conservation describes the corkwood's range as "scattered ... freshwater swamps, wetland thickets, pond habitats, brackish tidal streams and brackish marshes of coastal southeast Texas, the central Gulf coast of Florida, extreme southeast Missouri, northeast and east-central Arkansas and southwest Georgia."

One might search for the ivory-billed woodpecker in similar places. And, like the ivory-billed woodpecker, corkwood was once far more common in the southeastern U.S. As wetlands have been drained and stream banks bulldozed, corkwood has died out. It is considered a threatened plant in Florida and Texas, and rare in Georgia, Arkansas,and Missouri,

Where the corkwood grows, it is often found in thickets because it spreads by root suckers. It is unusually tolerant of flooding, and it can live in a submerged state for long periods of time. This makes it a valuable tree for controlling erosion along stream banks.

Florida CorkwoodCorkwood. Image courtesy of USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database /
Britton, N.L., and A. Brown. 1913.

An illustrated flora of the northern United States,
Canada and the British Possessions
. Vol. 1: 586.


Images of corkwood (Leitneria floridana) on Flickr
Corkwood article in Trees of Georgia

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Enrich your life with the study of trees.

"The power to recognize trees at a glance without examining their leaves or flowers or fruit as they are seen, for example, from the car-window during a railroad journey, can only be acquired by studying them as they grow under all possible conditions over wide areas of territory. Such an attainment may not have much practical value, but once acquired it gives to the possessor a good deal of pleasure which is denied to less fortunate travelers."

Charles Sprague Sargent (1841-1927)

Print references I frequently consult

Benvie, Sam. Encyclopedia of North American Trees. Buffalo, NY: Firefly, 2000.

Brockman, C. Frank. Trees of North America: A Guide to Field Identification. Ed. Herbert S. Zim. New York: Golden, 1986.

Cliburn, Jerry, and Ginny Clomps. A Key to Missouri Trees in Winter: An Identification Guide. Conservation Commission of the State of Missouri, 1980.

Collingwood, G. H., Warren David Brush, and Devereux Butcher. Knowing Your Trees. Washington: American Forestry Association, 1978.

Dirr, Michael. Dirr's Hardy Trees and Shrubs: an Illustrated Encyclopedia. Portland, Or.: Timber, 1997.

Elias, Thomas S. The Complete Trees of North America; Field Guide and Natural History. New York: Book Division, Times Mirror Magazines, 1980.

Grimm, William Carey. The Book of Trees;. Harrisburg, PA: Stackpole, 1962.

Hightshoe, Gary L. Native Trees, Shrubs, and Vines for Urban and Rural America: a Planting Design Manual for Environmental Designers. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1988.

Little, Elbert L. National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Trees. New York: Chanticleer, 1996.

Martin, Alexander C., Herbert S. Zim, and Arnold L. Nelson. American Wildlife and Plants. New York: McGraw Hill, 1951.

Mitchell, Alan F., and David More. The Trees of North America. New York, NY: Facts On File Publications, 1987.

Randall, Charles E. Enjoying Our Trees. Washington: American Forestry Association, 1969.

Settergren, Carl D., and R. E. McDermott. Trees of Missouri. Columbia: University Extension, 1995.

Sternberg, Guy, and James W. Wilson. Native Trees for North American Landscapes: from the Atlantic to the Rockies. Portland: Timber, 2004.

Wharton, Mary E., and Roger W. Barbour. Trees and Shrubs of Kentucky. Lexington: University of Kentucky, 1973.

Wyman, Donald. Trees for American Gardens. New York: Macmillan, 1965.

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