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