Another Great Groundcover
Updated: Mar 15, 2019
Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens).
This diminutive, evergreen, groundcover species thrives in the acidic, shady understory of our woodlands, and makes for a delightful, highly medicinal and refreshing tea. The red berries of this plant often persist into the winter and following spring, and provide valuable winter forage for birds and small mammals.
Wintergreen can sometimes be mistaken for Mountain Laurel (Kalmia latifolia) which is often seen growing in the same places as wintergreen, and is seen in the third photo. Mountain Laurel grows much larger than the wintergreen, the later rarely exceeding more than a several inches in height, where as Mountain Laurel will often reach heights of several feet with noticeably woody stems.
Another great aid in identifying wintergreen is its smell, if you crush a bit of the leaves between your fingers, a sweet, wintergreen aroma should be quite apparent. The leaf veins on Wintergreen are also much more visible and pronounced on the upper surface of the leaf, as compared to the smooth surface of Mountain Laurel. Both plants are members of the Heath family, Ericaceae, which also includes blueberries, cranberries and huckleberries.