Gaultheria procumbens L.
Creeping Wintergreen, Wintergreen, Eastern Teaberry, Checkerberry, Boxberry, American Wintergreen
Creeping wintergreen is a native of northeastern North America, and as far south as Alabama.
Identification: Creeping wintergreen is a low, spreading plant, typically 4-6" (10-15 cm) tall, sometimes as low as 1" (2.5 cm). Leaves are oval, evergreen, dark in color, ¾-1¾" (2-5 cm) long and ⅜-¾" (1-2 cm) across. When broken, the leaves smell of wintergreen. Flowers are about ¼" (6.3 mm) long, white, urn-shaped, resembling blueberry flowers. Fruits are bright red, ¼-½" (6.3-12 mm) in diameter, and hard (like an apple). See also the similar-appearing but unrelated partridgeberry (Mitchella repens).
Here is a comparison of these similar species:
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|Plant||Low, spreading plant, typically 4-6" (10-15 cm) tall, sometimes as low as 1" (2.5 cm).||Low-lying vine is rarely more than 2" (5 cm) in height and up to 12" (30 cm) long.|
|Flowers||Flowers are about ¼" (6.3 mm) long, white, urn-shaped, resembling blueberry flowers.||Tubular, with four sharp-tipped petals, white or slightly pink, ½-¾" (1.3-1.9 cm) long and ⅜" (9.5 mm) in diameter. They appear from May to July.|
|Leaves||Oval, evergreen, dark in color, ¾-1¾" (2-5 cm) long and ⅜-¾" (1-2 cm) across. When broken, the leaves smell of wintergreen.||Opposite and oval or heart-shaped, about ½" (1.3 cm) long, with a prominent light green central vein. Each leaf is dark and shiny on top, pale and yellowish below.|
|Fruit||Fruits are bright red, round, ¼-½" (6.3-12 mm) in diameter, and hard (like an apple).||One red, misshapen berry ¼-½" (6.3-12 mm) in diameter—actually two fused berries—grows for each pair of flowers.|
Edibility: Berries are edible, but bland, tasting only faintly of wintergreen. To prepare a tea, sterilize a jar by boiling it, as you would for preparing jams and jellies. Pack it with wintergreen leaves, fill with sterile water, and store the sealed jar in a warm spot for several days. The water will become bubbly with fermentation, which releases the wintergreen flavor. Heat the fermented beverage and dilute it to taste. This tea is the derivation of the name “teaberry,” which also served as the name for Teaberry Gum.
Gaultheria procumbens on Carolina Nature, from Will Cook
Gaultheria procumbens on Earl J.S. Rook's Flora, Fauna, Earth, and Sky ... The Natural History of the Northwoods
Gaultheria procumbens in Paghat's Garden
Gaultheria procumbens on Wikipedia
Gaultheria procumbens on Plants for a Future, a resource and information centre for edible and otherwise useful plants
Gaultheria procumbens at the University of Wisconsin's Robert W. Freckmann Herbarium
Gaultheria procumbens on Erv Evans' site at the North Carolina State University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
Gaultheria procumbens on the USDA Forest Service's Fire Effects Information Database
Gaultheria procumbens at the Virginia Tech Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation
Gaultheria procumbens description by Thomas H. Kent, last updated 12 Nov 2013.