Vol. 20 Issue 4, Winter 2015
By Julie Borneman
What plant produces delicate flowers, provides fall color, supports wildlife, is evergreen and will even grow in dry shade? Gaultheria procumbens is a plant that can meet all these criteria while adding interest to the garden in all seasons. G. procumbens has many common names including Eastern Teaberry, Wintergreen and Checkerberry.
Eastern Teaberry is a woody low 3 to 5 inch plant that spreads by rhizomes. Small white to pink flowers from June to August lend a delicate look to the summer garden. Fruit and seed production starts in summer and continues until fall. Oval, shiny, dark, green leaves turn reddish as temperatures drop. Leaves are fragrant and remain green in winter. Individual plants are typically found in the wild, but in the right conditions can form small colonies and create a very handsome groundcover.
While Eastern Teaberry is not frequently found in the Piedmont region, it grows well here in the right conditions. It prefers shade to part shade, or dappled sunlight, dry to moist soils, and will even tolerate poor soil. In the wild it can often be found growing beneath evergreen trees. In the garden this ability makes it a nice companion plant for otherwise tricky areas.
Eastern Teaberry is easy to grow as it has no significant pest or disease problems. Mildew and leaf spot can crop up, but are generally cosmetic and cause no harm to the plant. Locating the plant in the proper place minimizes these problems.
Any baby boomers remember Clark’s Teaberry flavored gum? G. procumbens has been used to flavor teas, candies, medicines as well as chewing gum. G. procumbens is the original source of wintergreen oil. Crushed leaves produce a very pleasing scent and cooking the leaves or berries will fill your house with a lovely aroma. Eastern Teaberry is also appealing to wildlife. Showy red fruits attract chipmunks, mice, and birds. Deer will browse on the foliage so young plants should be protected from critters until well established. Once established, it should be able to tolerate deer browse.
Given the right conditions Gaultheria procumbens can prove to be a hearty ground cover for challenging spots in the landscape. It has many uses and benefits for both humans and wildlife throughout the year.
Bown, D. Encyclopaedia of Herbs and their Uses.
Chevallier, A. The Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants.