How to grow wintergreen?

Flower:

Single flowers hanging on smooth stalks are borne in the leaf axils at the end of a branch. Flowers are the classic nodding urn-shape of the heath family, ¼ to 1/3 inch long, the 5 white petals fused with the tips curled tightly back from the restricted opening. The calyx holding the flower is also white, the lobes oval, around 1/16 inch long and slightly hairy. The flower stalk is also slightly hairy and about same length as the flower.

Leaves and stems:

Leaves are evergreen, alternate, with 3 to 5 leaves at the ends of the slender branches, ¾ to 1¾ inches long, 1/3 to 1 inch wide, oval to somewhat paddle-shaped, a pointed, rounded or blunt tip, tapering at the base to a short stalk. Leaves are very shiny on the upper surface, sparsely hairy, with fine teeth widely spaced around the edges, a fine spine-like hair at the tip of a tooth. Stems are slender and woody, sparsely hairy, creeping above ground or subterranean, rooting down and sending up periodic upright branches to form colonies.

Fruit:

Fruit is a bright red to purplish berry-like capsule, ¼ to 1/3 in diameter, that has a strong flavor of wintergreen and often persists through the winter, unless eaten and dispersed by an animal.

Notes:

Widely spread throughout northern Minnesota’s coniferous forests, this species was once the source of all wintergreen flavoring before modern science was able to produce it synthetically.

Wintergreen Seeds – Wintergreen Ground Cover Seed

Groundcover Specifications

Season: Perennial

USDA Zones: 4 – 7

Height: 4 – 6 inches

Bloom Season: Mid-summer

Bloom Color: White

Environment: Partial shade

Soil Type: Well-drained, high in organic matter, pH 4 – 6

Deer Resistant: Yes

Planting Directions

Temperature: 41F or less is very effective

Average Germ Time: 21 – 56 days

Light Required: No

Depth: Do not cover the seed but press into the soil

Sowing Rate: Approximately 1000 wintergreen seeds covers 20 square feet

Moisture: Keep seeds moist until germination

Plant Spacing: 24 inches

Note: For detailed directions for indoor and outdoor planting, please

Care & Maintenance: Wintergreen

Wintergreen (Gaultheria Procumbens) – With a little patience, you can grow this beautiful creeping ground cover from Wintergreen seeds. Wintergreen ground cover is great for shady areas with acidic soil. It is low-growing, shrub-like and spreads to 24 inches wide by stolons. In the summer it has sweet little bell-shaped flowers, and in the fall and winter, it has lovely red berries. Creeping Wintergreen offers year round visual interest! This aromatic little ground cover plant is not only attractive, but it also has a history of medicinal uses. It contains methyl salicylate, a medicine related to aspirin, and has been used in medicines for both internal and topical use.

Wintergreen ground cover seeds germinate best after a cold treatment. It is recommended to refrigerate Wintergreen seeds 4 – 10 weeks as the cold temperature helps to break the dormancy of the seed. Remove the ground cover seeds from the refrigerator and sow them directly in a prepared seedbed. Creeping Wintergreen plants prefer somewhat acidic soil and soil that has lots of organic matter worked in.

Shake ‘n Seed – We are now offering shaker bottles filled with our seed starting matrix: rich soil, gardening sand, water absorbing crystals, and starter fertilizer. This not only helps dispense your seed, but it gets it off to a great start! Simply remove lid from shaker bottle, add seed from packet, put back on lid, shake the bottle vigorously for 15 seconds, and then shake your way to beautiful new plants! Use Shake ‘n Seed over good quality soil, and then gently water to keep seed moist until it sprouts. Great for ground covers or mass planting flower seeds.

Gaultheria procumbens

  • Attributes: Genus: Gaultheria Species: procumbens Family: Ericaceae Uses (Ethnobotany): Leaves were once used to make tea though it is no longer recommended. It was also used to treat arthtic pain and sore muscles. The leaves and fruit produce an oil that has been used as medicine, as well as in candies and chewing gum. Life Cycle: Woody Recommended Propagation Strategy: Root Cutting Seed Country Or Region Of Origin: Canada, North Central and Eastern U.S.A. Wildlife Value: Fruits are eaten by many wildlife from birdes to small mammals. Play Value: Attractive Flowers Edible fruit Fragrance Wildlife Food Source Edibility: Leaves and fruits are used to make wintergreen oil which is used in gum, canyd and toothpaste. Fruits can be eaten raw or cooked in desserts or salads. Dimensions: Height: 0 ft. 4 in. – 0 ft. 8 in. Width: 0 ft. 6 in. – 1 ft. 0 in.
  • Whole Plant Traits: Plant Type: Ground Cover Native Plant Leaf Characteristics: Broadleaf Evergreen Habit/Form: Creeping Erect Spreading Growth Rate: Slow Maintenance: Low Texture: Fine
  • Cultural Conditions: Light: Dappled Sunlight (Shade through upper canopy all day) Deep shade (Less than 2 hours to no direct sunlight) Partial Shade (Direct sunlight only part of the day, 2-6 hours) Soil pH: Acid (<6.0) Soil Drainage: Good Drainage Moist Available Space To Plant: Less than 12 inches 12 inches-3 feet NC Region: Coastal Mountains Piedmont Usda Plant Hardiness Zone: 3a, 3b, 4a, 4b, 5a, 5b, 6a, 6b, 7a, 7b
  • Fruit: Fruit Color: Red/Burgundy Fruit Value To Gardener: Edible Showy Display/Harvest Time: Fall Summer Winter Fruit Type: Capsule Fruit Length: < 1 inch Fruit Width: < 1 inch Fruit Description: Fruit forms as a berry-like capsule with a large fleshy red edible caly 3/8″.
  • Flowers: Flower Color: Pink White Flower Value To Gardener: Fragrant Flower Bloom Time: Summer Flower Shape: Urn Flower Size: < 1 inch Flower Description: Small, pinkish-white, waxy urn-shaped flowers in early summer, which form at the base of the leaves.
  • Leaves: Leaf Characteristics: Broadleaf Evergreen Leaf Color: Green Leaf Feel: Glossy Leathery Leaf Value To Gardener: Fragrant Deciduous Leaf Fall Color: Purple/Lavender Leaf Type: Simple Leaf Shape: Elliptical Oblong Leaf Margin: Entire Hairs Present: No Leaf Length: 1-3 inches Leaf Description: New growth is light green with a wine-colored tinge. Simple, entire margin ellipitcal to oblog glossy dark green leaves turn purple in the fall. They smell and taste like wintergreen.
  • Stem: Stem Is Aromatic: No
  • Landscape: Landscape Location: Naturalized Area Woodland Landscape Theme: Native Garden Rock Garden Winter Garden Design Feature: Foundation Planting Attracts: Small Mammals Songbirds Resistance To Challenges: Heavy Shade

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Wintergreen, Gaultheria procumbens

Gaultheria procumbens goes by several nicknames in addition to wintergreen: teaberry, checkerberry, deerberry, and boxberry, to name a few. If you’re not familiar with wintergreen flavor, it’s delightfully minty.

Whenever I see this common, diminutive evergreen shrub – yes, it is a shrub – I think of Almanzo and Alice Wilder, (from a favorite children’s book, Farmer Boy, by Laura Ingalls Wilder), pawing through the snow for wintergreen one Saturday afternoon. After snacking on the berries, the two kids gathered up some wintergreen leaves for Mother, who, Laura writes, crammed them into a bottle of whiskey to make the year’s supply of wintergreen flavoring for cakes and cookies. That is, she made wintergreen extract.

That was the 1860’s, when homestead children were responsible for gathering wild nuts, berries, roots, twigs, bark, and leaves that the family needed for food, flavoring, medicine, or dye. What a stark contrast to modern day kids, many of whom cannot distinguish between an oak leaf and a maple leaf! Not that I was much better than the current generation – I certainly could not have identified wintergreen in the woods was when I was a kid, and I had to learn from Laura Ingalls Wilder how to make wintergreen extract.

Wintergreen leaves and berries, with a quarter for scale

General characteristics of wintergreen

This tiny evergreen shrub reaches about 6 inches in height and spreads by means of long rhizomes. The oval leaves are 1-2 inches long. While there are many other little plants with oval leaves gracing the forest floor, wintergreen leaves have a distinctive minty scent when torn.

As a member of the heath family (Ericaceae), G. procumbens is closely related to blueberries, huckleberries, and cranberries, also in the heath family. In fact, wintergreens’s spring blooms look very much like blueberry and huckleberry flowers (scroll down at that link to see my photos of blueberry and huckleberry flowers). But, nodding under leaves only a few inches off the ground, wintergreen flowers usually go unnoticed.

The flowers are followed by bright red berries, about 1/4 to 3/8 inch in diameter. The berries have a distinct wintergreen flavor, but they are not juicy; the texture is about as appealing as styrofoam. They ripen in fall and persist into winter.

Where to find wintergreen

Wintergreen in a mixed oak forest

It grows in most of eastern North America, according to the USDA Plants Database range map. Like other members of the heath family, it prefers acidic soils. It is often found in pine/oak forests, especially where other heath family shrubs (like blueberry and huckleberry) grow.

Here in Massachusetts, wintergreen is very common in white pine / mixed oak forests. In some locations it literally carpets the forest floor; elsewhere it is sparsely distributed.

Edibility of wintergreen

The edible berries have been used in many recipes, and the leaves can be used to make a wintergreen flavored tea, cordial, or extract. The minty flavor comes from the chemical methyl salicylate, produced by the plant. In fact, pure oil of wintergreen is methyl salicylate. People used to distill it from Gaultheria procumbens, or from another plant which produces it, the black birch (Betula lenta). But these days, pure oil of wintergreen is chemically synthesized.

The nerds among us might recognize that methyl salicylate sounds a lot like acetyl salicylate, or aspirin. And it is a lot like aspirin. Like aspirin, it has medicinal qualities, such as anti-inflammatory and anti-fever properties. And, like aspirin, pure oil of wintergreen is toxic in large enough quantities. How large is large enough? A teaspoon (7 grams) of pure oil of wintergreen can kill an adult, and 4.7 grams can kill a child, as you can see here. But relax. An alcohol extract is not pure oil of wintergreen, and you wouldn’t consume a whole teaspoon at once. You would add about a teaspoon of an extract to an entire batch of cookies.

How many wintergreen berries can you safely eat? I don’t know. But I do know that the berries are a common wild edible used by hikers as a snack, and I’ve never heard of a wintergreen eating hiker die of salicylate poisoning. The thing is, that styrofoam texture of the berries is just not that appealing, so you wouldn’t want to eat them by the handful, the way you eat blueberries. So don’t eat them by the handful. Enjoy the minty flavor of an occasional berry.

Unsure you’ve got the right plant? Then double or triple check with other sources until you are certain. Never eat a wild plant unless you are sure of its identity and know that it’s edible.

How to forage for wintergreen

I do snack on wintergreen berries in the woods sometimes, but I don’t like to pick a lot of them because they are not produced in great abundance. If you want to make something with them, there are many recipes using them on the web; search for teaberry cake, cookies, ice cream, etc. Instead, I prefer to harvest the leaves, because not many are needed to make an extract that will last a long time. Here’s how you can harvest to minimize impact:

  • Take only one leaf per stem (per cluster of leaves).
  • Take from clusters that are spaced at least a few feet apart.
  • Try not to trample it all out as you harvest; take some of what you need from clusters that you can reach from the trail.
  • Harvest where it is relatively abundant, not where you find just an occasional, pathetic looking, struggling plant.

Because this tiny shrub is evergreen, you can harvest leaves at any time of year. I haven’t really noticed the scent of the leaves varying in intensity over the course of the year, so I don’t think it matters much. Berries persist into winter, but I think they’re better in fall. The only reason to pick them in winter, as far as I can see, is that there are no other berries in the woods at that time of year.

Wintergreen extract in progress: torn leaves in vodka, with a few berries for color

How to make wintergreen extract

  • Add torn wintergreen leaves to a small jar until 2/3 to 3/4 full.
  • Pour in enough 80 or 100 proof vodka to cover the leaves.
  • Cap the jar, shake it, and keep it in a dark place at room temperature for at least a month. Shake the jar every day or two.
  • Taste it every now and then to see how strong it is. After 6 weeks, or longer, if necessary to develop a strong flavor, strain out the leaves and discard them.

You can use whiskey, like Almanzo and Alice’s mother did, but that will add some flavor of its own, whereas vodka does not. You do not need to add any berries. I did so just to make the photo pretty. They fade to an ugly sand color within 24 hours, anyway, so don’t bother unless your plan is to photograph it right after mixing, to show it off in a stellar blog post ;o)

Looking for a creative way to use wintergreen extract? Try my wintergreen ice cream brownie torte. It’s rustic, beautiful, and delicious!

Shared on: Time Travel Thursday #176, HomeAcre Hop, From the Farm hop, Simply Natural Saturdays, Independence Day Challenge, Homesteaders Hop #20, Homestead Barn Hop #138, Natural Living Monday, Mostly Homemade Monday #57, Thank Goodness it’s Monday #47, Backyard Farming Connection #59, Creative Home and Garden Hop #20, Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways #100, Old-Fashioned Friday #46, Freedom Fridays, Wildcrafting Wednesday#119, Weekend Wholefood Blender Party, Tuesday Greens #59

Wintergreen

Illustration by Adelaide Tyrol

I give a lot of tours at my 80-acre homestead, and have found that most visitors are delighted for the opportunity to connect nature with real life. Those of us who spend much time rubbing elbows with nature might say that it is real life, but for many people the connection is a serendipitous anomaly.

“Remember teaberry gum?” I like to ask as we walk along a wide, sunny woods path. “That stuff that used to be around when we were kids, in the red package?”

They always nod, even the people who are probably too young to have ever encountered teaberry gum on the shelves at the corner variety store. They suspect I’m leading up to something big and don’t want to miss out.

I reach down and pluck a shiny leaf from a wintergreen plant growing along the edge of the footpath, snap it into several pieces, and rub it between my fingers to release the oils. After taking a whiff myself — both as a show of good faith and to ascertain that it is sufficiently aromatic for a show-and-tell specimen — I offer it up for sniffs all around.

People breathe in the strong scent and experience a flood of recognition and remembrance. Oh yes, they exclaim, often reaching for a second or third whiff, or sometimes seeking out their own leaf.

Wintergreen, (Gaultheria procumbens) — also called teaberry, checkerberry, and mountain-tea — is abundant on my land. It is a common plant, very hardy, and native to North America; it can be found in Canada from the Maritime Provinces to Manitoba and throughout the eastern half of the US as far south as Alabama.

This little member of the heath, or Ericaceae family, grows just four to six inches tall. It likes acidic and somewhat sandy soil, making the sun-dappled edges of the paths through my mixed-growth forest the perfect site, especially in the predominately softwood sections.

Wintergreen’s leathery little oblong leaves are green in summer but, despite its name, the plant often turns red in fall and through winter. It is shade-tolerant, but may not produce blossoms without sun. The dainty white or pinkish bell-shaped flowers add a lovely touch when they do occur, and hang on for some time before setting fruit. Bright red berries appear in the fall and stay on the plant through the winter.

“Are they edible?” forest visitors often wonder. I reply that the leaves and berries do indeed have a strong taste of wintergreen and are safe to ingest, but I warn them that it won’t taste much like the sugary teaberry gum of days gone by. They smell the same, but the similarity stops there.

Plenty of people do consume wintergreen, however. Those intrepid enough to dismiss the inherent risk of foraging on trails frequented by dogs may chew on leaves and eat berries for trail snacks, but most people simply make a tea from the leaves.

In addition to its use for herbal teas and trail nibbling, wintergreen is said to have medicinal qualities. The leaves contain methyl salicylate, which is the primary ingredient in many modern commercial pain-relief ointments. Native Americans used wintergreen leaves in poultices and teas to relieve pain.

Animals browse on wintergreen plants, too. Deer, turkeys and other birds, rodents, and even bears and foxes include the berries as a regular — albeit not usually major — part of their diet.

The plants form a creeping carpet of vegetation, both by sending out runners and by way of underground rhizomes. This creates a beautiful base layer in its natural forest setting. They are gaining popularity as a ground cover in planted garden beds and landscaping, providing people an alternative to non-native species.

Kathy Bernier is a native Mainer, forest enthusiast, homesteader, and writer.

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Plant Database

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Wildflowers of the Adirondacks:
Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens)

Wildflowers of the Adirondacks: Wintergreen’s small nodding white flowers usually appear in July and August in the Adirondack Mountains. Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) in bloom on the Sucker Brook Trail at the Adirondack Interpretive Center (5 August 2018).

Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) is a low-growing wildflower with shiny evergreen leaves found in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York. It bears small white flowers in July and August followed by bright red berries that often persist through winter.

  • Wintergreen is a member of the Ericaceae (heath) family, a large family of flowering plants usually found in acid soil. This family includes a large number of plants that occur in the Adirondack Mountains, including Common Lowbush Blueberry, Highbush Blueberry, Small Cranberry, Trailing Arbutus, Bog Rosemary, Leatherleaf, Sheep Laurel, Bog Laurel, Indian Pipe, One-sided Wintergreen, Shinleaf, and Labrador Tea.
  • Wintergreen is part of the Gaultheria genus, which also contains Creeping Snowberry (Gaultheria hispidula), another low-growing plant that also can be found in the Adirondack region. The genus Gaultheria was named for Jean-François Gaultier, a naturalist and physician in Quebec in the mid-18th century.
  • The species name (procumbens) apparently is derived from the Latin verb prōcumbō, which means to fall prostrate – a reference to the prostrate habit of the plant.

The common name (Wintergreen) is a reference to the evergreen leaves. Other common names include American Wintergreen, Boxberry, Checkerberry, Teaberry, Creeping Wintergreen, Deerberry, Eastern Spicy-wintergreen, Eastern Teaberry, Eastern Wintergreen, Ground Holly, Ground Tea, Mountain Tea, Mountain-tea, Redberry Wintergreen, Spiceberry, and Spicy Wintergreen.

Identification of Wintergreen

Wildflowers of the Adirondacks: Wintergreen’s evergreen leaves are shiny with widely spaced, minute teeth tipped with short, spine-like hairs. Wintergreen on the Heron Marsh Trail at the Paul Smith’s College VIC (9 September 2018).

Wintergreen is classified as a shrub or sub-shrub. It is a low plant, growing from slender, creeping underground stems that form small colonies of plants. The branches arising from these stems are upright, about two to six inches high.

The branches bear leaves that are usually clustered towards the tips of the branches.

  • The leaves of Wintergreen, which have a strong minty fragrance, are simpleSimple Leaf: A leaf with a single undivided blade, as opposed to a compound leaf, which is one that is divided to the midrib, with distinct, expanded portions called leaflets., which means that they are undivided, in contrast to compound leavesCompound Leaf: A leaf that is divided to the midrib, with distinct, expanded portions called leaflets. which have multiple parts.
  • The leaves are arranged alternatelyAlternate: An arrangement of leaves (or buds) on a stem (or twig) in which the leaves emerge from the stem one at a time. This often makes the leaves appear to alternate on the stem., meaning that they emerge from the stem one per node.
  • Wintergreen leaves are oval to ellipticalElliptic: A leaf shaped like an ellipse, widest at the center and tapering at each end., about an inch or two long, with a short stalk. The upper surface is medium to dark green and very shiny. There are very fine teeth widely spaced around the edges, with a spine-like hair at the tip of each tooth.
  • The leaf bladeBlade: The broad, flat portion of a leaf, where photosynthesis occurs. has one main veinVein: A vessel that conducts nutrients, sugars, and other substances throughout plant tissues; usually associated with leaves. The arrangement of veins in a leaf is called the venation pattern. running from the base towards the tip. Leaf venation is pinnatePinnate Leaf Venation: A vein arrangement in a leaf with one main vein extending from the base to the tip of the leaf and smaller veins branching off the main vein., meaning that there are smaller veins branching off the main vein.
  • As the plant’s common name implies, Wintergreen leaves are evergreen, persisting through winter. They sometimes turn reddish or burgundy as the weather turns colder.

Wildflowers of the Adirondacks: Wintergreen’s tiny white flowers bloom in July and August in the Adirondack region. Wintergreen in bloom on the Heron Marsh Trail (28 July 2012).

Wintergreen’s nodding flowers dangle beneath its leaves.

  • The flowers are waxy, white and tiny, ¼ to ½ inches long.
  • The flowers are solitary or occur in groups of two or three. They dangle from the leaf axilsAxil: The angle between the upper side of a leaf or stem and the stem or branch that supports it..
  • The flowers are bell-shaped. The five white petals are fused with the tips curled back.
  • The pedicelPedicel: the flower stalk which supports the flower. (the stalk of the flower) is about ⅓ inch long and is light green to red.

In the Adirondack region, Wintergreen usually blooms beginning in mid-summer. A tally of bloom dates for the upland Adirondack areas compiled by Michael Kudish, based on data collected from the early seventies to the early nineties, lists the plant as in flower in August.

Recent data suggests that, depending on weather, buds may appear in areas within the Adirondack Park Blue Line in early July, followed by flowers in late July and August. Plants in areas just south of the Blue Line tend to flower a bit earlier, in early July.

Wildflowers of the Adirondacks: Wintergreen’s bright red berries often persist through the winter. Wintergreen near Jones Pond in Franklin County (12 May 2017).

Wintergreen’s fertile flowers are replaced by fruit, which takes the form of small, berry-like capsules.

  • The berries are initially a very light green (in late August and early September), usually maturing to bright red by around October.
  • The berries are ¼ to ⅓ inches in diameter, with a strong flavor of wintergreen.
  • Each berry has a distinctive notched pucker on its underside and contains many small seeds.
  • The berries often persist throughout the winter (unless eaten by wildlife or passing humans) and are said to be larger and tastier in the spring than in autumn.

Wintergreen’s bright red berries are about the same size and color as those of Partridgeberry, another low-growing evergreen plant found in the Adirondacks. Both are trailing, evergreen plants that produce white flowers in summer. In both cases, the berries persist through the winter. The flowers and leaves, however, are very different.

  • Partridgeberry’s leaves are oppositeOppposite Leaves – leaves occurring in pairs at a node, with one leaf on either side of the stem. (meaning that there the leaves emerge from the stem in pairs), in contrast to Wintergreen’s alternate leaves. Partridgberry’s leaves are larger and wider in the middle than those of Wintergreen. Partridgeberry leaves are smoothSmooth leaf edges do not have any teeth. (lacking the widely spaced teeth of Wintergreen), and they have a prominent whitish-yellow center veinVein: A vessel that conducts nutrients, sugars, and other substances throughout plant tissues; usually associated with leaves. The arrangement of veins in a leaf is called the venation pattern.. In addition, Partridgeberry’s leaves lack the distinctive fragrance of Wintergreen.
  • Partridgeberry flowers are very different. They don’t dangle like those of Wintergreen, but occur in pairs above the leaves. Partridgeberry flowers have four petal-like lobes, and the internal surfaces are covered with dense, white hairs, giving the flowers a fuzzy appearance.

Another low, trailing evergreen plant that grows in the Adirondacks is Creeping Snowberry. Like Wintergreen, this plant is a member of the Gaultheria genus.

  • Creeping Snowberry is a much smaller plant than Wintergreen. As with Wintergreen, Creeping Snowberry’s leaves are alternate, but they are egg-shaped and much smaller, generally less than ⅜ inches in length, with smooth marginsSmooth leaf edges do not have any teeth. (in contrast to Wintergreen’s hair-tipped teeth). Also, they lack the minty aroma of Wintergreen leaves.
  • Creeping Snowberry’s tiny white flowers also hang below the leaves, but they appear in spring, rather than summer.
  • Creeping Snowberry develops small, white berries that contrast with Wintergreen’s bright red fruit.
  • Creeping Snowberry is often found in much moister sites, such as the edges of bogs.

Uses of Wintergreen

Wildflowers of the Adirondacks: Wintergreen berries were used as food by several native American groups. The leaves were used to make oil of wintergreen and a tea used as a tonic. Wintergreen on the Bloomingdale Bog Trail (12 May 2017).

Wintergreen has a variety of uses as a food.

  • Wintergreen’s mint-flavored berries are edible and have been used to make pies or jams. Wintergreen berries were consumed by several native American groups. The Iroquois, in instance, mashed the fruit, made it into small cakes, and dried the cakes for future use.
  • The leaves of the plant were used to make oil of wintergreen to flavor candies, medicines, and chewing gum. Several sources caution that large doses of wintergreen oil can be toxic. The leaves were also used to make tea by several native Americans groups, including the the Algonquin, Chippewa, Ojibwa, and Cherokee.

Wintergreen was also widely used for its medicinal properties. Native Americans used the plant to treat a variety of ailments, including colds, headaches, stomach aches, chronic indigestion, kidney disorders, and rheumatism. The Iroquois, for instance, used a compound infusion of Wintergreen roots as for tape worms; they took a decoction of the leaves to treat colds. The Mohegans used an infusion of the plant as a kidney medicine. Poultices of crushed Wintergreen leaves were also applied externally on wounds, rashes, and bruises.

Wildlife Value of Wintergreen

Birds of the Adirondacks: Wintergreen provides a food source for several bird species, including Ruffed Grouse. Ruffed Grouse in North Elba, Essex County (30 July 2018).

Wintergreen’s value as a food for wildlife depends, as with all plants, on its availability and the availability of alternative foods. Wintergreen is not taken in large quantities by any species of wildlife, but its value is enhanced by the fact that both its berries and leaves persist through winter.

Several species of birds consume Wintergreen, including Wild Turkey and Ring-necked Pheasant. Ruffed Grouse consume Wintergreen’s fruit, buds, and leaves. For instance, a study of the diet of Ruffed Grouse in Maine found that Wintergreen constituted 2.2% of the total volume of its annual diet, with higher percentages in autumn.

White-tailed Deer browse Wintergreen throughout its range. The plant constitutes 5-10% of the White-tailed Deer’s diet. In some localities, Wintergreen is an important winter food. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation lists Wintergreen as a preferred winter deer food, based on observations in deer wintering areas over many years from all parts of New York State.

Other animals that eat wintergreen are American Black Bears (which consume the fruit, constituting up to 2% of their diet in some areas), White-footed Mice, Deer Mice, Red Squirrels, and Red Foxes. Wintergreen is also reported to be a favorite food of the Eastern Chipmunk.

Wintergreen’s importance for insects is relatively low. The primary pollinators of Wintergreen are bumblebees. Other insects which feed on the sap or foliage include one species of aphids and one species of moth larvae.

Distribution of Wintergreen

Wildflowers of the Adirondacks: Wintergreen is found in all counties within the Adirondack Park Blue Line, often growing in a bed of moss or pine needles. Wintergreen along the Boreal Life Trail (1 September 2012).

Wintergreen occurs in the eastern half of the United States and the southern provinces of Canada. It can be found from Newfoundland and New England south in the mountains to Georgia and west to Minnesota. This plant is listed as Endangered in Illinois.

Wintergreen grows in nearly all counties in New York State and all Adirondack Park Blue Line counties

Habitat of Wintergreen

Wintergreen is adapted to coarse and medium-textured soil. It has low fertility requirements and prefers acidic soils. It is tolerant of shade, but grows and flowers best in semi-open sites, with partial sun to light shade. It prefers fairly well-drained soils, but can tolerate wetter sites.

Wintergreen can be found in a variety of habitats, including acidic hardwood forests and hemlock-hardwood forests, often in close proximity to other plants that need infertile or acidic soil. This plant is classified as Facultative Upland (FACU), which means that it usually occurs in uplands (non-wetlands), but may occur in wetlands.

In the Adirondack Mountains, Wintergreen is found in a variety of ecological communities, including:

Look for Wintergreen growing along many of the trails covered here, including the Bloomingdale Bog Trail and Peninsula Nature Trails, as well as the Barnum Brook Trail, Boreal Life Trail, and Heron Marsh Trail at the Paul Smith’s College VIC.

Michael Kudish. Adirondack Upland Flora: An Ecological Perspective (The Chauncy Press, 1992), p. 143.

Michael Kudish. Paul Smiths Flora II: Additional Vascular Plants; Bryophytes (Mosses and Liverworts); Soils and Vegetation; Local Forest History (Paul Smith’s College, 1981), p 56.

New York Flora Association. New York Flora Atlas. Wintergreen. Gaultheria procumbens L. Retrieved 23 February 2018.

Integrated Taxonomic Information System. Gaultheria procumbens L. Retrieved 23 February 2018.

United States Department of Agriculture. The Plants Database. Eastern Teaberry. Gaultheria procumbens L. Retrieved 23 February 2018.

United States Department of Agriculture. Fire Effects Information System (FEIS). Species Reviews. Gaultheria procumbens. Retrieved 23 February 2018.

Flora of North America. Gaultheria procumbens Linnaeus. Retrieved 23 February 2018.

NatureServe Explorer. Online Encyclopedia of Life. Gaultheria procumbens – L. Retrieved 23 February 2018.

Margaret B. Gargiullo. A Guide to Native Plants of the New York City Region (New York City Department of Parks & Recreation, 2007), p. 97.

Northern Forest Atlas. Images. Gaultheria Procumbens. Retrieved 28 February 2018.

Northern Forest Atlas. Images. Gaultheria Hispidula. Retrieved 28 February 2018.

Northern Forest Atlas. Images. Mitchella Repens. Retrieved 28 February 2018.

New England Wildflower Society. Go Botany. Eastern Spicy-wintergreen. Gaultheria procumbens L. Retrieved 23 February 2018.

New York Natural Heritage Program. 2019. Online Conservation Guide for Appalachian Oak-Pine Forest. Retrieved 1 April 2019.

New York Natural Heritage Program. 2019. Online Conservation Guide for Chestnut Oak Forest. Retrieved 1 April 2019.

New York Natural Heritage Program. 2019. Online Conservation Guide for Pine-Northern Hardwood Forest. Retrieved 1 April 2019.

New York Natural Heritage Program. 2019. Online Conservation Guide for Pitch Pine-Heath Barrens. Retrieved 1 April 2019.

New York Natural Heritage Program. 2019. Online Conservation Guide for Pitch Pine-Oak-Heath Rocky Summit. Retrieved 1 April 2019.

New York Natural Heritage Program. 2019. Online Conservation Guide for Red Pine Rocky Summit. Retrieved 1 April 2019.

New York Natural Heritage Program. 2019. Online Conservation Guide for Sandstone Pavement Barrens. Retrieved 1 April 2019.

USA National Phenology Network. Nature’s Notebook. Gaultheria procumbens. Retrieved 23 February 2018.

Connecticut Botanical Society. Wintergreen. Gaultheria procumbens L. Retrieved 23 February 2018.

University of Wisconsin. Flora of Wisconsin. Gaultheria procumbens L. Retrieved 23 February 2018.

Minnesota Wildflowers. Gaultheria procumbens (Wintergreen). Retrieved 24 February 2018.

Illinois Wildflowers. Wintergreen. Gaultheria procumbens. Retrieved 24 February 2018.

Illinois Wildflowers. Vertebrate Animal & Plant Database. Gaultheria procumbens. Retrieved 24 February 2018.

Illinois Wildflowers. Insect Visitors of Illinois Wildflowers. Flower-Visiting Insects of Checkerberry. Retrieved 24 February 2018.

Illinois Wildflowers. Plant-Feeding Insect Database. Gaultheria spp. Retrieved 24 February 2018.

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. Gaultheria procumbens. Retrieved 24 February 2018.

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Winter Deer Foods. Retrieved 24 February 2018.

iNaturalist. American wintergreen. Gaultheria procumbens. Retrieved 23 February 2018.

Anne McGrath. Wildflowers of the Adirondacks (EarthWords, 2000), p. 21, Plate 10.

Roger Tory Peterson and Margaret McKenny. A Field Guide to Wildflowers. Northeastern and North-central North America (Houghton Mifflin Company, 1968), pp. 38-39.

Doug Ladd. North Woods Wildflowers (Falcon Publishing, 2001), p. 184.

Lawrence Newcomb. Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide (Little Brown and Company, 1977), pp. 212-213.

David M. Brandenburg. Field Guide to Wildflowers of North America (Sterling Publishing Company, Inc., 2010), p. 217.

Timothy Coffey. The History and Folklore of North American Wildflowers (FactsOnFile, 1993), pp. 91-92.

Ruth Schottman. Trailside Notes. A Naturalist’s Companion to Adirondack Plants (Adirondack Mountain Club, 1998), pp. 134-137.

William Carey Grimm. The Illustrated Book of Wildflowers and Shrubs (Stackpole Books, 1993), pp. 200-201, 550-551.

National Audubon Society. Field Guide to North American Wildflowers. Eastern Region. (Alfred A. Knopf, 2001), p. 508, Plate 69.

William K. Chapman et al. Wildflowers of New York in Color (Syracuse University Press, 1998), pp. 36-37.

John Eastman, “Ruffed Grouse (Bonasa umbellus),” The Eastman Guide to Birds: Natural History Accounts for 150 North American Species. Kindle Edition. (Stackpole Books, 2012).

Plants for a Future. Gaultheria procumbens – L. Retrieved 24 February 2018.

Steven Foster and James A. Duke. A Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs of Eastern and Central North America. Second Edition. (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2000), pp. 30-31.

Bradford Angier. Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants. Revised and Updated. (Stackpole Books, 2008), pp. 262-263.

University of Michigan. Native American Ethnobotany. A Database of Foods, Drugs, Dyes and Fibers of Native American Peoples, Derived from Plants. Eastern Teaberry. Gaultheria procumbens L. Retrieved 24 February 2018.

Allen J. Coombes. Dictionary of Plant Names (Timber Press, 1994), p. 78.

Charles H. Peck. Plants of North Elba (Bulletin of the New York State Museum, Volume 6, Number 28, June 1899), p. 112. Retrieved 22 February 2017.

An Adirondack Naturalist in Illinois. Another Day on the Trails. 27 August 2010. Retrieved 25 February 2018.

Saratoga Woods and Waterways. Scrambling Around the River’s Rocks, Part II. 10 November 2009. Retrieved 25 February 2018.

Saratoga Woods and Waterways. Woods Hollow Habitat: Good for Goodyera. 8 July 2011. Retrieved 25 February 2018.

Saratoga Woods and Waterways. Archer Vly — A Second Lake Desolation Destination. 30 July 2017. Retrieved 25 February 2018.

Charles P. Brown, “Food of Maine Ruffed Grouse by Seasons and Cover Types,” The Journal of Wildlife Management, Volume 10, Number 1 (January 1946), pp. 17-28. Retrieved 25 February 2018.

William Richard Van Dersal. Native Woody Plants of the United States: Their Erosion-control and Wildlife Values (US Department of Agriculture, 1938), p. 134. Retrieved 27 February 2018.

Bernard Boivin, “Gaultier, Jean-François,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, Volume 3, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 1974. Retrieved 26 February 2018.

Wildflowers of the Adirondack Park

Wintergreen Plant Care: Learn About Wintergreen Growing Conditions

Evergreen groundcovers keep the life in the landscape even in winter. Gaultheria, or wintergreen, is a sweet little plant with mint scented leaves and edible berries. It is perfect for cooler regions and is native to North America. Some tips below can help you decide if it is right for your garden as well as a guide on how to care for wintergreen.

Growing Wintergreen Plants

Any area of the garden that is shady to partially sunny make ideal wintergreen growing conditions. These low growing plants form creeping mats of glossy green foliage that turns red to bronze in winter. The decorative red berries are an added bonus that were used in candies, gum, perfume, cosmetics, teas and other uses prior to synthetic flavorings.

Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) is a forest plant in its native habitat. It primarily colonizes areas around natives like mountain laurel and rhododendrons in moist, acidic soils. Much of its wild range is west of the Mississippi River, but it is also found south to Georgia. As understory plants, a low light area is best suited for growing wintergreen

plants.

The species name, procumbens, proclaims this as a ground cover because it means “lying flat.” Optimal wintergreen growing conditions are found in United States Department of Agriculture zones 3 to 8 or AHS heat zones 8 to 1. Wintergreen plants perform best in light to full shade in areas with cool summers. The plants do not enjoy hot, humid conditions, suffer in drought and dislike overly wet, boggy soils.

How to Care for Wintergreen

This is an easy little plant to grow provided it is situated in a suitable location. Plants grow slowly and should be spaced 4 to 6 inches (10-15 cm.) apart. When plants are newly installed, wintergreen plant care should include regular watering and even established, mature plants require supplemental moisture in hot, dry summers.

No pruning or mowing is required with this plant. It also has few pest or disease issues, partly due to the pungent oils the crushed leaves and berries emit. The only concern of issue is cosmetic, where rust can discolor the leaves.

In summer, pale bell-shaped flowers appear and lead to deep red drupes. The berries may persist well into the winter if birds do not eat them or if you aren’t tempted to try your hand at a sauce or canned preparation.

Wintergreen Plant Propagation

As with most berries, these plants can be propagated with their seeds. In fact, in ideal conditions, the plants may self-sow. The seeds need to be separated from the pulp and given 4 to 13 weeks cold treatment. Plant seeds in flats filled with peat and sand in early spring. Place flats in a greenhouse or cold frame until sprouts are noticed. Seeds should sprout in 1 to 2 months but plants are slow to grow.

A faster method of wintergreen plant propagation is through division. Divide plants in early spring. After planting divisions, provide average water as part of essential wintergreen plant care, unless the spring rain is consistent. Wintergreen can also be propagated by semi-ripe stem cuttings with a little rooting hormone and a low soil medium.

Our gardens are meant to be filled with exciting smells.

Wintergreen is a familiar fragrance in various products

ranging from mints to chewing gum, flavoring agents to

linaments. The natural source of wintergreen oil was once

principally derived from the distillation of the

wintergreen plant, producing the oil of wintergreen. This

oil was used for flavoring and as a anti-rheumatic

medication (it also contains methyl salicylate, a compound

related to aspirin).

Yet for all the familiarity of its scent and its wide

growing distribution in eastern North America, gardeners do

not often consider it for planting. It is rated by some as

one of the most durable and aesthetically pleasing and

widely distributed native plants.

Its natural range stretches from Newfoundland and

Manitoba south to Virginia and Minnesota to the mountains

of North Carolina and Georgia. Wintergreen tea made from

the leaves was a well-known drink of American Indians and

was especially popular with colonist after the Boston Tea

party.

A few years ago a neighbor asked me about planting

wintergreen, and I had to admit ignorance. Then in the

spring of 1996, container-grown wintergreen plants were

found in the full sun nursery lot of Wal-Mart. A couple

were rescued for planting in Doris Mayfield’s woodland

garden, and their success can be reported.

Wintergreen, `Gaultheria procumbens’, also known as

teaberry or checkerberry is a member of the Heath family

whose close relatives are the blueberries and the mountain

laurels (Kalmia). In nature it’s often an indicator of low

nutrient and acidic soils, and is found carpeting large

areas of damp or dry deciduous or evergreen woodlands in

the partial shade of oaks or pines.

Wintergreen forms a natural ground cover 4 to 6 inches

in height, with leathery dark shinny leaves that are 2

inches long by about 11/4 inches wide. In spring the new

leaves emerge before the flowers in a wine-red color and in

the fall the mature leaves turn a bronze-plum color for the

duration of the winter. Its new growth is produced on

reddish rhizomes along the soil’s surface or just under the

mulch. These increase the plants’ size with new plants

forming along and at the ends of the creeping rhizomes.

White to pinkish urn-shaped quarter-inch flowers hang

below the leaves in mid-spring. Then in early autumn the

flowers have formed bright red berries that will persist

until spring. These berries are a quarter- to half-inch

across and provide food for some birds and small mammals.

They are edible after frost, either raw or used in salads,

soups, or pies.

For wintergreen’s culture, select a site that has

filtered sun to partial shade. Soil should be abundant in

organic matter and acidic with a pH of 4 to 6.5 and good

drainage.

Its major problem in its culture is in its first year,

as it needs to be well-watered during its period of

establishment until the new roots move out into the

surrounding soil.

Wintergreen has a slow growth rate with only a 4- to

6-inch spread per year. Some say it’s dependant on fungi

that are present in the soil, so the addition of

well-rotted compost and peat is advised. Space plants 10 to

12 inches apart and mulch with leaf mold or pine needles

and keep the soil moist until the plants are well

established. There are no serious pests on wintergreen.

Use wintergreen plants in the landscape for woodland

settings with Christmas ferns, trilliums, bloodroot,

baneberry, Solomon’s seal, partridge berry, or in the front

of other acid loving plants like azaleas, rhodendendrons,

high bush cranberry or Pierris. It can also be a worthy

edging to woodland paths and borders. Doris’s plants are

flourishing and have fruited well despite our terrible

summer’s weather.

Today, wintergreen flavoring is made from sweet birch,

`Betula lenta’, or from the chemistry lab. However, its

chewed leaves still offer the gardener a unique and

refreshing spicy flavor.

Although wintergreen may be slow in its growth and

establishment, its distinctive aromatic foliage, red

berries, evergreen foliage and colorful new growth and fall

color does rate it as a most desirable native ground

cover.

Mail order sources:

Wayside Gardens, 1 Garden Lane, Hodges, S.C.. 29695;

phone (800) 845-1124 and Flowery Branch Nursery, P.O. Box

1330, Flowery Branch, GA 30542; phone (404) 536-8380.

Russell Studebaker is a professional horticulturist.

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