Gaultheria hispidula, commonly known as the Creeping Snowberry or Moxie-Plum, is a spreading ground-level vine of the heath family Ericaceae native to North America that produces small white edible berries. It fruits from August to September. Its leaves and berries taste and smell like wintergreen.
Gaultheria hispidula is an evergreen prostrate shrub which forms a mat of stems and leaves which can reach 1 m (3 ft) in diameter and only 10 cm (4 in) high. The small leaves, which are under 1 cm long, are arranged alternately along the stems. The pale green-white flowers are seen in spring, followed by the white berries in August and September. The fruit is edible and acid-tasting.
Habitat and ecology
Gaultheria hispidula grows in acidic and neutral soils in open woodland and forest verges, particularly on wet ground such as in or on the edge of bogs, often near tree stumps. It is pollinated by solitary bees, bumblebees, bee-flies and hoverflies, while chipmunks and deer mice spread the seed.
Its original range spread from far northern Canada to as far south as North Carolina, but it has been extirpated from the southerly portions of its original range. Like most plants in North America, deforestation and competition with invasive ornamentals (especially shade-loving groundcovers, such as English ivy or winter creeper commonly sold at garden centers) probably hurts the creeping snowberry significantly. As a result, it has been extirpated from some of its original range and classified as rare in several states. Despite this, its international status has been evaluated as secure. This is because it is still quite common in its more northerly range of greater Canada. However, deforestation and exotic invasion are continuing problems that affect all forest species in both Canada and the United States.
The Algonquin people use an infusion of the leaves as tonic for overeating. They also use the fruit as food. The Anticosti use it as a sedative, and the Micmac take a decoction of the leaves or the whole plant an unspecified purpose. The Ojibwa people use the leaves to make a beverage.
- Peterson Field Guides: Edible Wild Plants, Lee Allen Peterson, 1977
- "Gaultheria hispidula - (L.)Muhl. ex Bigelow.". Plants For A Future database. Plants For A Future. Retrieved 21 May 2011.
- Pennsylvania Natural Heritage Program (PNHP) (2007). "Creeping Snowberry (Gaultheria hispidula)". Pennsylvania Plant Species of Concern. Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. Retrieved 22 May 2011.
- Hays, Michael (2001). "Conservation Assessment for Creeping snowberry (Gaultheria hispidula)". US Forest Service website. Allegheny National Forest: USDA Forest Service, Eastern Region. Retrieved 21 May 2011.
- "Global Deforestation". University of Michigan. Retrieved 27 May 2011.
- "Canada's Species". Torsten Bernhardt, Museums Assistance Program of Heritage Canada, McGill University. Retrieved 27 May 2011.
- Black, Meredith Jean 1980 Algonquin Ethnobotany: An Interpretation of Aboriginal Adaptation in South Western Quebec. Ottawa. National Museums of Canada. Mercury Series Number 65 (p. 216)
- Black, p.102
- Rousseau, Jacques 1946 Notes Sur L'ethnobotanique D'anticosti. Archives de Folklore 1:60-71 (p. 68)
- Speck, Frank G. 1917 Medicine Practices of the Northeastern Algonquians. Proceedings of the 19th International Congress of Americanists Pp. 303-321 (p. 317)
- Densmore, Frances 1928 Uses of Plants by the Chippewa Indians. SI-BAE Annual Report #44:273-379 (p. 317)