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Common Name: Leather Leaf
Chamaedaphne calyculata is an evergreen shrub that can grow up to 0.75 metres tall.
It is harvested from the wild for local use as a food and medicine
All parts of the plant (including the leaves, flowers and pollen) contain greater or lesser amounts of the toxic compound andromedotoxin (also known as grayanotoxin)[
]. Rarely lethal to humans (and used medicinally in some herbal disciplines), this compound causes dose-dependant overstimulation of the central nervous system with symptoms including various cardiovascular effects (mainly low blood pressure and cardiac rhythm disorders); nausea and vomiting; and a change in consciousness. The effects commence shortly after ingestion and last around two days. These effects are also transferred to honey made from the nectar of the flowers. In some parts of the world bees are used to deliberately produce a honey rich in andromedotoxin which is then eaten for its supposed medicinal, hallucinogenic and aphrodisiac effects.
In contrast to humans, many other creatures are more susceptible to the toxin and it has sometimes proved lethal to grazing animals and household pets. Some forms of honeybees are also killed by the toxin (resistant forms of the bee are used for honey production). Bumblebees are not affected, however, and are also more efficient in pollinating rhododendron flowers, so one theory is that the toxin is produced by the plant in oder to favour the bumblebee and improve fertilization rates[
Northern Europe, through northern Asia and northern N. America.
Peaty swales, bogs, pine barrens, pond margins etc[
]. Coniferous forests and mossy moors at low elevations in China[
Thrives in a moist well-drained lime-free soil in sun or semi-shade[
]. Best if given some protection from the midday sun[
Plants are hardy to about -25°c[
There are some named forms, selected for their ornamental value. 'Nana' is a dwarf compact form that is good for shady areas[
The flowers have a delicate refreshing scent[
An aromatic tea-like beverage is brewed from the fresh or dried leaves[
]. Some reports say that boiling or steeping can extract a harmful toxin 'andromedotoxin' and it is recommended that the leaves are put in a jar of water and left in a sunny position to brew in order to make 'sun-tea'[
A poultice of the leaves has been applied to inflammations[
An infusion of the leaves has been used to treat fevers[
Seed - sow late winter in a lime-free compost in a greenhouse and only just cover the seed[
]. Do not allow the compost to dry out and keep the pot in a shady position. Germination is usually fair, taking 1 - 12 months at 15°c, though 4 weeks cold stratification may reduce this time[
]. When they are large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and grow them on in a greenhouse for at least their first winter. Plant them out into their permanent positions in late spring or early summer, after the last expected frosts[
Cuttings of almost ripe side-shoots, 4 - 5cm long with a heel, August in a frame. A variable degree of success[
]. It can help to prune the plants lightly after flowering in order to encourage vigorous growth from which to take the cuttings[
Layering in August. Takes 18 months. High percentage[