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Posts tagged “Ericaceae

Wintergreen Flowering

Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens), also known as Checkerberry and Eastern Teaberry, is an aromatic, evergreen plant in the heath family (Ericaceae) that creeps along the ground.  This plant loves acid soil, and you can often find it growing alongside Blueberry (Vaccinium sp.).  Its single, white flowers develop into bright red berries which Ruffed Grouse consume with relish.

Not surprisingly, these berries taste like oil of wintergreen. The active ingredient in this oil is synthesized and used as a flavoring in chewing gum, toothpaste, breath fresheners, candy, and medicines, including Pepto Bismol.  This same ingredient, methyl salicate, is related to aspirin, which explains why Native Americans chewed and made a tea from the leaves and berries of Wintergreen to alleviate pain.

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Trailing Arbutus in Bloom

5-1-14 trailing arbutus 109Trailing Arbutus (Epigaea repens) is said to have heralded spring to the winter-weary Pilgrims in 1621 and thus is known as “Mayflower” by many. (It is also the Massachusetts state flower.) Creeping along the ground where the soil is typically quite acidic are Trailing Arbutus’s hairy, woody stems bearing evergreen, aromatic leaves that are present year round. Only in the early spring are we treated to its fragrant pink flowers, often nestled under these leathery leaves. Abundant nectar is found by overwintering bumblebee queens that are attracted to Trailing Arbutus’s indescribably delicate and sweet-smelling scent.

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Pyrola (Pyrola elliptica), also known as Shinleaf, is an evergreen perennial which is usually only noticed at this time of year, when it is flowering.  The flower is distinctive in that the style of the female pistil is proportionally far longer than in most flowers, and extends beyond the waxy, white petals.  There are several species of Pyrolas in New England, varying in leaf shape and flower color/arrangement.  All of them belong to the family Ericaceae, which includes blueberries and cranberries.  Look for this 4” – 12” plant in shady, damp woods and when you find one, peer up under the petals to see the orange-tipped stamens.