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Eastern Teaberry, American Wintergreen, Checkerberry - Gaultheria procumbens


Family: Ericaceae - Heath family Genus Common Name: Snowberry, Wintergreen Native Status: NativeDicot Perennial Shrub Subshrub
Gaultheria procumbens - Eastern Teaberry, American Wintergreen, Checkerberry. While Gaultheria is a large genus with something over 115 species worldwide, there are only 6 species in North America. Of those six species, four are exclusively western species (1 found only in Alaska), and one (G. hispidula) is found across the breadth of Canada, in three counties of Idaho and Washington, and in the northeastern United States from Minnesota east to the Atlantic coast and south only into eastern West Virginia.

Gaultheria procumbens - the species presented here - is the sixth of those North American species, and is exclusively an eastern species. It is found as far west as Minnesota and Manitoba, Canada ranging eastward to the Atlantic ocean, and southward into mountains of Alabama, Georgia, and possibly South Carolina, growing in moist conifer and deciduous forests, clearings, and bogs, blooming in the summer (June - August.) While a pretty common species overall, it is Endangered in Illinois.

Found in:
AL, CT, DC, DE, GA, IL, IN, KY, MA, MD, ME, MI, MN, NC, NH, NJ, NY, OH, PA, RI, SC, TN, VA, VT, WI, WV, GS
Gaultheria procumbens

Distribution of Gaultheria procumbens in the United States and Canada:
USDA Plants Distribution Map temporarily unavailable.
Blue=Native; Grey=Introduced

Map from USDA Plants Database:
USDA, NRCS. 2017. The PLANTS Database (http://plants.usda.gov, 25 Jun 2017). National Plant Data Team, Greensboro, NC 27401-4901 USA.

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Site: Gilliland Cemetery, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Cocke County, TN Date: 2014-July-01Photographer: Gerald C. Williamson
Nikon D7000
Tamron SP 90MM f/2.8 AF Macro
Eastern Teaberry has an inflorescence of 2 or 3 white (sometimes pink) bell (or upside-down urn) shaped flowers at the axils of the leaves on the vertical branch of the plant. The leaves are frequently crowded near the top of the vertical branch, so there may be several groups of the axillary flowers close together. The flowers are less than 1/2 inch long.
Gaultheria procumbens

Site: Gilliland Cemetery, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Cocke County, TN Date: 2014-July-01Photographer: Gerald C Williamson
Nikon D7000
The 5 white (sometimes pink) petals of Gaultheria procumbens are joined - connate - for nearly their entire length, separated at the tip to make what looks like a frilled opening. The flowers hang down like bells (or upside-down urns; Flora of North American describes them as "urceolate"), nodding from their usually pinkish pedicels. The petals are capped with 5 sepals that are even whiter than the petals. Those sepals are ciliate-fringed, but you have to look very closely to see the fringe on the tiny sepals.
Click on the photo for a larger image
Gaultheria procumbens

Site: Russell Field Trail, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Blount County, TN Date: 2011-January-05Photographer: Gerald C Williamson
Gaultheria procumbens is an evergreen - the leaves persist through the winter, although they do turn a reddish color, similarly to their frequent co-habitant, Galax, shown also in this photo. The fruit is a red berry. Another species in the genus, Creeping Snowberry (G. hispidula), has a white berry. These two species are the only members of Gaultheria found in the eastern half of the United States; their ranges overlap in the northern part of the range of Gaultheria procumbens.
Click on the photo for a larger image
Gaultheria procumbens

Site: Gilliland Cemetery, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Cocke County, TN Date: 2014-July-01Photographer: Gerald C Williamson
Nikon D7000
Eastern Teaberry's flowering branches rarely are more than 3 or 4 inches high. The leaves are alternate on the stem, crowded near the end. The flowers usually droop below the uppermost leaves.
Click on the photo for a larger image
Gaultheria procumbens

Site: Gilliland Cemetery, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Cocke County, TN Date: 2014-July-01Photographer: Gerald C Williamson
Nikon D7000
The stem of Gaultheria procumbens is decumbent - it runs along the ground - with the branches and end part of the stem rising vertically, carrying the leaves and flowers. This and Epigaea repens (Trailing Arbutus) are the only members in Ericaceae (the Heath family) which reproduce rhizomatically. The leaves have been used medicinally by herbalists, particularly as an anti-inflammatory, and the oils are used as a flavoring in foods and toothpastes. They give off a strong wintergreen scent when crushed.
Click on the photo for a larger image
Gaultheria procumbens

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All content except USDA Plants Database map Copyright Gerald C. Williamson 2017
Photographs Copyright owned by the named photographer