Leatherleaf is circumboreal—it is native to northern regions around the world.
Plants: Multiply branched shrubs 12-59" (30-150 cm) in height, with
roots that extend about 12" (30 cm) into soggy soil.
They are found in dense, floating mats of sphagnum in fresh water, or along edges of water, especially bogs.
Leaves: Alternate, unlobed, sometimes toothed, leathery,
elliptical to broadly lanceolate,
⅜-1¾" (1-5 cm) × ⅛-⅝" (5-17 mm). Leaf edges are slightly curled downward.
Flowers: ¼" (6.3 mm) in size, white, and urn-shaped, similar to blueberry flowers. They occur in long
racemes and hang one-sided, like bells. They appear from April to July.
Buds are covered with tiny, brown scales.
Fruits: Round, reddish capsules about ¼" (6.3 mm) around.
Edibility: Some native North Americans
brewed tea from fresh or dry leaves, but boiling may release enough grayanotoxin I, also called “andromedotoxin,” to be toxic. (The same substance is found
in some rhododendrons.) Although grayanotoxin I poisoning is rarely fatal, it probably isn’t what you had in mind
from a cup of tea, and steeping the leaves in a jar of water
in a sunny spot, instead of boiling, was said to minimize this problem.