Wintergreen Bells Open for Teaberry Blooms

Wintergreen, Gaultheria procumbens, is also called Checkerberry or Teaberry. You might be familiar with Teaberry Gum or Teaberry Ice Cream – well, the flavor comes from wintergreen. It’s a low-growing plant that can be found in woodlands, especially in northern areas of the eastern US and Canada, and in the mountains toward the south. It’s a member of the Heath family, Ericaceae.

The evergreen leaves of wintergreen are thick and leathery, shiny ovals. New growth appears in a light green and the older growth that has overwintered may have shades of purple. Damage to the slightly toothed leaves can be seen on many plants, but they still seem to function ok.

Wintergreen is a perennial woodland plant. The plants are found in colonies. Stems rise up from underground runners that creep along, so several “plants” found together are really several branches from a common underground stem.

A cluster of wintergreen plants.
A cluster of wintergreen plants. Photo taken 26 June 2011.

Wintergreen flowers are small, drooping egg shapes before they open into bells that are reminiscent of huckleberry or blueberry blossoms. Each flower hangs from a leaf axil, usually one per leaf. The blooming period is late June through July.

Dangling white flowers of wintergreen are spotted with pink.
Dangling white flowers of wintergreen are spotted with pink. Photo taken 26 June 2011.
Sometimes the leaves and flowers of wintergreen are obscured by the leaf litter.
Sometimes the leaves and flowers of wintergreen are obscured by the leaf litter. Photo taken 26 June 2011.

The white and pink dangling wintergreen flowers are lightly fragrant, as are the leaves and fruit. The leaves taste of wintergreen and have been used in making tea.

Teaberry in bloom.
Teaberry in bloom. Photo taken 26 June 2011.
The smallest blooming wintergreen plant measures less than two inches across.
The smallest blooming wintergreen plant measures less than two inches across. Photo taken 4 July 2011.

Red, round wintergreen fruits will develop in the fall, some of which will overwinter and still be seen in the springtime.

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