Wintergreen Identification – Gaultheria procumbens

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This post is part of our “100 Plants and Mushrooms” series. Here, you’ll see the plant’s main parts – its leaves, flowers, fruits, and more – all with key identification features.

Wintergreen, bearing the scientific name Gaultheria procumbens, falls under the Ericaceae family. If the name Ericaceae sounds a bit tricky, just think of it as the Heath family, which houses many shrubs and trees known for their colorful berries, like the blueberry. Besides ‘Wintergreen’, it goes by other common names such as Eastern Teaberry or Checkerberry. If you ever wondered why it’s also called teaberry, it’s because it’s a tradition in some places to make tea from its leaves!

The plant isn’t tall, growing only up to 6 inches in height. If you’re looking for ground cover for those shady spots in your garden, wintergreen can be an excellent choice. Apart from its attractive appearance, it emits a lovely wintergreen fragrance when the leaves are crushed.

Wintergreen: Key Parts in Photos

Where to find it

Wintergreen primarily loves places with a lot of shade or partial shade. Look for it in forests that have hardwood trees, as it thrives best under them, especially when the soil is slightly acidic. It’s also common in dry coniferous forests and mixed woodlands.

How to identify Wintergreen

The leaves remain green throughout the year – hence ‘evergreen’. They’re alternatively arranged on the stem, and you’ll typically find 3 to 5 of them at the ends of its slender branches. Their shape is somewhat oval. If you touch them, you’ll find the upper surface to be quite shiny. Look closely at the edges and you’ll notice fine teeth, each having a tiny hair at its tip. The stems, on the other hand, creep along the ground or just below it, rooting down occasionally. This characteristic helps the wintergreen spread and form colonies.

Moving on to the flowers, they hang on smooth stalks. These are found in the leaf axils. The flower looks like a little bell with 5 petals, all white. This bell shape is pretty standard for the Heath family. The flower itself is small. The petals are fused together, with their tips curling away from the center.

When it comes to fruit, wintergreen gives us a delightful berry-like capsule that is bright red. Up to 1/3 inch in diameter, it has a strong wintergreen flavor. Often, these berries can remain on the plant through winter.

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