Gaultheria procumbens

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"Mountain tea" redirects here. For herbal infusions, see herbal tea.
Gaultheria procumbens
Gaultheria procumbens.JPG
Gaultheria procumbens in Hammond, Indiana
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Asterids
Order: Ericales
Family: Ericaceae
Genus: Gaultheria
Species: G. procumbens
Binomial name
Gaultheria procumbens
L.

Gaultheria procumbens (eastern teaberry, checkerberry, boxberry, or American wintergreen) is a species of Gaultheria native to northeastern North America from Newfoundland west to southeastern Manitoba, and south to Alabama.[1] It is a member of the Ericaceae (heath family).[2]

Growth habit[edit]

G. procumbens fruit

It is a small low-growing shrub, typically reaching 10–15 centimeters (3.9–5.9 in) tall. The leaves are evergreen, elliptic to ovate, 2–5 cm long and 1–2 cm broad, with a distinct oil of wintergreen scent. The flowers are bell-shaped, 5 mm long, white, borne solitary or in short racemes. The berry-like fruit is actually a dry capsule surrounded by fleshy calyx,[3] 6–9 mm diameter.

It is a calcifuge, favoring acidic soil, in pine or hardwood forests, although it generally produces fruit only in sunnier areas.[4] It often grows as part of the heath complex in an oak-heath forest. [5][6]

G. procumbens spreads by means of long rhizomes, which are within the top 20–30 mm 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.[4]

This plant has gained the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit.[7]

Edibility[edit]

19th century illustration

The fruits of G. procumbens, considered its actual "teaberries," are edible, with a minty flavor,[8] and 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 3 days.[9]

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

Wildlife value[edit]

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.[10]

Common names[edit]

Other common names include: American mountain tea, boxberry, Canada tea, canterberry, checkerberry, chickenberry, chinks, 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, youngsters, [11][7]

While this plant is also known as partridge berry,[12] that name more often refers to the ground cover Mitchella repens.

Traditional use[edit]

The plant has been used by various tribes of Native Americans for medicinal purposes.[13]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Germplasm Resources Information Network: Gaultheria procumbens
  2. ^ Dwelley, Marilyn J. (1977). Summer & Fall Wildflowers of New England. Down East Enterprise, Inc. p. 60. ISBN 0-89272-020-4. Retrieved 2008-08-10. 
  3. ^ Yü-Liang Chou 1952. Floral morphology of three species of Gaultheria: Contributions from the Hull Botanical Laboratory. Botanical Gazette 114:198–221 First page free
  4. ^ a b Gaultheria procumbens, Fire Effects Information System
  5. ^ The Natural Communities of Virginia Classification of Ecological Community Groups (Version 2.3), Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, 2010
  6. ^ Schafale, M. P. and A. S. Weakley. 1990. Classification of the natural communities of North Carolina: third approximation. North Carolina Natural Heritage Program, North Carolina Division of Parks and Recreation.
  7. ^ a b http://apps.rhs.org.uk/plantselector/plant?plantid=842
  8. ^ Borealforest: Gaultheria procumbens
  9. ^ Gibbons, Euell. "Stalking the Healthful Herbs." New York: David McKay Company. 1966. pg. 92.
  10. ^ This section incorporates text from Gaultheria procumbens, Fire Effects Information System, a public domain work of the US government.
  11. ^ Lust, John (1974). The Herb Book. Bantam Books. p. 404. ISBN 0-553-26770-1. Retrieved 2008-08-10. 
  12. ^ Hall, Joan Houston (2002). Dictionary of American Regional English. Harvard University Press. p. 47. ISBN 0-674-00884-7. Retrieved 2007-11-16. 
  13. ^ http://books.google.com/books?id=h3Xcj5lw4rIC&pg=PA79&lpg=PA79&dq=%22Gaultheria+procumbens%22+%22native+american%22&source=bl&ots=4Zh29vnBcA&sig=sYuJaeJNg5mUBiTd7MIPmHj83o4&hl=en&sa=X&ei=25jnUMaXJvKN0QGVtoGgDg&ved=0CF8Q6AEwBjgK#v=onepage&q=%22Gaultheria%20procumbens%22%20%22native%20american%22&f=false