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Gaultheria procumbens

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Gaultheria procumbens, also called the eastern teaberry, the checkerberry, the boxberry, or the American wintergreen, is a species of Gaultheria native to northeastern North America from Newfoundland west to southeastern Manitoba, and south to Alabama.<ref name=grin>Template:GRIN</ref> It is a member of the Ericaceae (heath family).<ref name=Dwelley>Template:Cite book</ref>

Growth and habitat

Flowers blooming in July in Vermont
The forked anthers in a dissected flower

G. procumbens is a small, low-growing shrub, typically reaching Template:Cvt tall. The leaves are evergreen, elliptic to ovate, Template:Cvt long and Template:Cvt broad, with a distinct oil of wintergreen scent.

The flowers are pendulous, with a white, sometimes pink-tinged,<ref>Template:Minnesota Wildflowers</ref> bell-shaped corolla with five teeth at the tip Template:Cvt long, and above it a white calyx. They are borne in leaf axils, usually one to three per stem. The anthers are forked somewhat like a snake's tongue, with two awns at the tip.<ref name="FNA">Template:EFloras</ref>

The fruit is red and Template:Cvt across.<ref name="FNA" /> It looks like a berry, but is actually a dry capsule surrounded by fleshy calyx.<ref>Template:Cite journal</ref><ref name="FNA" />

The plant is a calcifuge, favoring acidic soil, in pine or hardwood forests, although it generally produces fruit only in sunnier areas.<ref name="feis">Template:FEIS</ref> It often grows as part of the heath complex in an oak–heath forest.<ref>Template:Cite web</ref><ref>Template:Cite web</ref><ref>Template:Cite web</ref>

G. procumbens spreads by means of long rhizomes, which are within the top Template:Cvt of soil. Because of the shallow nature of the rhizomes, it does not survive most forest fires, but a brief or mild fire may leave rhizomes intact, from which the plant can regrow even if the above-ground shrub was consumed.<ref name="feis"/>

This plant has gained the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit.<ref name=AGM>Template:Cite web</ref><ref>Template:Cite web</ref>


19th century illustration

The fruits of G. procumbens, considered its actual "teaberries", are edible, with a taste of mildly sweet wintergreen similar to the flavors of the Mentha varieties M. piperita (peppermint) and M. spicata (spearmint) even though G. procumbens is not a true mint. The leaves and branches make a fine herbal tea, through normal drying and infusion process. For the leaves to yield significant amounts of their essential oil, they need to be fermented for at least three days.<ref name=HealthfulHerb>Template:Cite book</ref>

Teaberry is also a flavor of ice cream in regions where the plant grows. It likewise inspired the name of Clark's Teaberry chewing gum.

Wildlife value

Dense growth of wintergreen, with berries and red-tinged new leaves

Wintergreen is not taken in large quantities by any species of wildlife, but the regularity of its use enhances its importance. Its fruit persist through the winter, and it is one of the few sources of green leaves in winter. White-tailed deer browse wintergreen throughout its range, and in some localities it is an important winter food. Other animals that eat wintergreen are wild turkey, sharp-tailed grouse, northern bobwhite, ring-necked pheasant, black bear, white-footed mouse, and red fox. Wintergreen is a favorite food of the eastern chipmunk, and the leaves are a minor winter food of the gray squirrel in Virginia.<ref name="feis" />

Common names

Other common names for G. procumbens include American mountain tea, boxberry, Canada tea, canterberry, checkerberry, chickenberry, creeping wintergreen, deerberry, drunkards, gingerberry, ground berry, ground tea, grouseberry, hillberry, mountain tea, one-berry, partridge berry, procalm, red pollom, spice berry, squaw vine, star berry, spiceberry, spicy wintergreen, spring wintergreen, teaberry, wax cluster, and youngsters.<ref name=AGM /><ref name=Lust>Template:Cite book</ref>

While this plant is also known as partridge berry,<ref name=Hall>Template:Cite book</ref> that name more often refers to the ground cover Mitchella repens.

Traditional use

The plant has been used by various tribes of Native Americans for medicinal purposes.<ref>Template:Cite web</ref>

See also


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External links