Leitneria floridana, commonly known as corkwood, is a unique shrub or small tree that is primarily found in wetland areas, such as swamps, ponds, marshes, estuaries, tidal streams, wet thickets, and roadside ditches. Its native range includes far southeastern Georgia, the Gulf Coast regions of Florida and Texas, as well as the Mississippi River basin in Arkansas and Missouri. In the wild, corkwood can grow up to 25 feet tall, but in cultivation, it typically reaches a height of 3 to 12 feet. While its flowering catkins and fruit are not particularly ornamental, the plant has several interesting features. It boasts attractive foliage that remains green well into autumn and has reddish bark with lighter lenticels. In swampy areas, the trunks often exhibit a swollen base. The wood of corkwood is very light and buoyant and was once utilized by fishermen as net floats.
Corkwood is a dioecious plant, meaning it has separate male and female individuals. It produces catkins in spring, before the leaves emerge. The male catkins are brownish, while the female catkins have a reddish color. Female plants produce fruit in late spring, which are oblong single-seeded light olive-brown drupes measuring about 5/8 inch in length. The leaves of corkwood are green to olive green, elliptic-oblong to lanceolate in shape, and typically 3 to 6 inches long. They are crowded near the branch tips and have a gray-hairy underside.
When it comes to cultivation, corkwood thrives in medium to wet soils and can tolerate full sun to part shade conditions. It has good flood tolerance and can withstand standing water for extended periods. However, it also adapts well to average moisture soils. While its native range is primarily USDA Zones 7-9, corkwood has demonstrated winter hardiness down to USDA Zone 5 and has been successfully cultivated even in the Chicago area. It has a suckering habit, forming dense colonies or thickets, and is well-suited for moist to wet areas, including low spots. The plant can also be effectively naturalized to create thickets and is particularly useful along streams or ponds. Its suckering habit makes it beneficial for erosion control, and it can be employed as a hedge or small screen plant.
Plant the seeds when received or store them in a refrigerator until they are planted. Plant the seeds in an area that is in part shade or full sun. They like moist soil. Sow the seeds 1/4 of an inch deep in the soil. Water the soil and keep it moist.