Gaultheria procumbens

Tried and Trouble-free Recommended by 1 Professionals
Common Name: wintergreen
Type: Broadleaf evergreen
Family: Ericaceae
Native Range: Eastern North America
Zone: 3 to 8
Height: 0.25 to 0.50 feet
Spread: 0.50 to 1.00 feet
Bloom Time: June to July
Bloom Description: White
Sun: Part shade to full shade
Water: Medium
Maintenance: Low
Suggested Use: Ground Cover, Naturalize
Flower: Showy
Leaf: Evergreen
Fruit: Showy, Edible
Other: Winter Interest
Tolerate: Heavy Shade

Culture

Best grown in organically rich, evenly moist, acidic, well-drained soils in part shade to full shade. Established plants tolerate some dry soils. Plants perform best in climates with cool summers. Space plants 10-14” apart for growth as a ground cover.

Noteworthy Characteristics

Gaultheria procumbens, commonly called wintergreen, is a rhizomatous, creeping, woody, evergreen groundcover of the heath family that is native to woodlands in Eastern North America (Newfoundland to Manitoba south to Minnesota, Tennessee, Virginia and in the mountains to Georgia and Alabama). Erect stems clad with glossy, leathery, elliptic to oblong, dark green leaves (to 2” long) rise up from the rhizomes to 3-6” tall. Plants will spread over time to form an attractive ground cover. Waxy, nodding, bell-shaped, white flowers (3/8” long) bloom from the leaf axils in early summer (June-July). Flowers give way to edible bright red berries (3/8” diameter) that persist through winter. Leaves acquire shades of purple in fall. Leaves and fruit have the aroma and taste of wintergreen. Berries are an excellent winter food for some wildlife such as pheasant, grouse, squirrels and deer. Foliage was once used to make oil of wintergreen which has astringent, stimulant and diuretic properties. Wintergreen has been a popular flavoring for chewing gum, candies and toothpaste. Dried leaves can be used to make an interesting tea (teaberry is a sometimes-used common name for this plant), but this usage is no longer recommended. Leaves were once made into poultices for arthritic pain and sore muscles. Fruits may be eaten raw or added to pastries and salads.

Genus name honors Jean-Francois Gaultier (1708-1756) who was the king’s physician in the French colony of Quebec from 1742 until 1756 plus an avid botanist and plant collector.

Specific epithet refers to the plant’s low-spreading habit.

Problems

No serious insect or disease problems. Aphids and thrips can be troublesome. Watch for mildew and leaf spot.

Garden Uses

Excellent ground cover for shady areas. Woodland gardens, rock gardens, foundations or native plant areas. Plants are an interesting complement to other acid-loving shrubs such as azaleas, rhododendrons, kalmias and blueberries.