Bayshore/ Wintergreen

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COMMON NAME: Wintergreen

OTHER COMMON NAME(S): Teaberry, Checkerberry, Creeping Snowberry, Mountain Tea

SCIENTIFIC NAME: Gaultheria procumbens

FAMILY: Ericaceae

COMMUNITY: Maritime Forest

STATUS: Native

LIFESPAN: Perennial

HEIGHT: Stems suberect from horizontal rhizome, 4 to 8 inches

FLOWERING TIME: Late June to August

FRUITING TIME: Late September to October & persisting

DISTRIBUTION: Newfoundland to Virginia and Kentucky ~ Statewide in NJ, most abundant in Pine Barrens & Kittantinny Mountains of northern New Jersey ~ Grows in dry or moist woods

 

IDENTIFYING CHARACTERISTICS: Stems slender and creep on or below surface ~ Leaves long elliptic to narrowly obovate, dark green, leather-like ~ Flowers white, few, solitary or in small racemes in axils, urn-shape ~ Fruit red, fleshy

 

GENERAL INFORMATION: This family, Ericaceae commonly called the Heath Family consists of 103 genera and 3,350 species of shrubs, lianas and small trees.  Many members of this family are of great horticultural and gastronomic interest, including Rhododendrons, Azaleas, Heathers and Cranberries, Blueberries and Bilberries.  “Heath” in Greek is ereike, Latin erica. The genus (Gaultheria) was named to honor Jean-Francois Gaultier (1708-1756).  He was a naturalist and court physician at Quebec, Canada. In the 1760s, Jonathan Carver reported “in winter it is full of red berries about the size of a sloe [small fruit of the blackthorn], which are smooth and round; these are preserved during the severe season by the snow, and are at that time in the highest perfection.  The Indians eat these berries, esteeming them very balsamic and invigorating to the stomach”. The oil, extracted from the leaves by distillation, became a prominent ingredient of many medicines.  In 1811 Mr. Swaim procured a formula and marketed it as Swaims’s Panacea. In 1831, the American Journal of Pharmacy reported that “the wonderful success of Mr. Swaim’s Panacea has brought this oil into great vogue”.  In colonial times and today people use the leaves to prepare  tea or in salad.  The fruit is also edible. Wildlife find Wintergreen one of the few sources of green leaves in winter.  White-tailed deer and ruffed grouse eat this plant.  Grouse eat both the leaves and berries.  Other game birds also eat Wintergreen as do black bear, mouse and fox.