Occurrence in North America
MI MN NH NJ NY NC OH PA RI TN
VT VA WV WI MB NB NF NS ON PE
Wintergreen is a spreading, evergreen, rhizomatous shrub which grows 4
to 8 inches (10-20 cm) tall [5,11,28]. Wintergreen creeps along the
ground, forming a dense carpet of shiny leaves that are 2 to 6 inches
(5-15 cm) long. The small flowers are less than 0.5 inches (1.2 cm)
long and are borne at the base of the leaves . The fruit is
berrylike capsule with a large fleshy calyx . The roots are 1 inch
(2.5 cm) or less in depth [14,31].
As long as the soil is acidic, wintergreen grows well on many substrates
including peat, sand, sandy loam, and coal spoils. It has been found
growing where soil pH ranged from 3.5 to 6.9 on the surface to 4.0 to
6.9 below the surface. However, a pH of 4.5 to 6.0 has been reported as
optimum for growth, with 7.0 the maximum wintergreen tolerates.
Wintergreen mainly occurs on moist sites but tolerates moisture
conditions ranging from dry to poorly drained [2,32].
In jack pine communities in upper Michigan, wintergreen was present on
xeric, transitional, and mesic sites with frequencies of 11, 62, and 86
percent, respectively . In Nova Scotia, wintergreen is found on the
tops of ridges and knolls in very shallow soil .
Key Plant Community Associations
Wintergreen is commonly found in the understory of pine (Pinus spp.) and
hardwood forests of New England. In western Nova Scotia and the Great
Lake States, it occurs in jack pine (P. banksiana) and spruce-larch
(Picea spp.-Larix spp.) forests [4,20,53,59]. It is a common understory
species in maple-oak (Acer spp.-Quercus spp.) forests of upper Michigan
. It is a dominant understory shrub of oak-poplar/fern (Quercus
spp.-Populus spp./Pteridium spp.) communities of southern New York .
Wintergreen is named as a dominant or codominant understory species in
the following classifications:
Habitat classification system field guide: northern Lake States Region
(Upper Peninsula of Michigan and northeast Wisconsin) 
Forest-type studies in the Adirondack Region 
Field guide to forest habitat types of northern Wisconsin 
Vegetation of the Great Smoky Mountains 
Understory species commonly associated with wintergreen include
huckleberries (Gaylussacia spp.), blueberries (Vaccinium spp.),
raspberries (Rubus spp.), grapes (Vitis spp.), mountain-laurel (Kalmia
latifolia), Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia), witchhazel
(Hamamelis virginiana), bog Labrador tea (Ledum groenlandicum),
partridgeberry (Mitchella repens), and lily-of-the-valley (Maianthemum
Habitat: Cover Types
This species is known to occur in association with the following cover types (as classified by the Society of American Foresters):
1 Jack pine
12 Black spruce
13 Black spruce - tamarack
14 Northern pin oak
15 Red pine
17 Pin cherry
18 Paper birch
19 Gray birch - red maple
20 White pine - northern red oak - red maple
21 Eastern white pine
23 Eastern hemlock
24 Hemlock - yellow birch
25 Sugar maple - beech - yellow birch
26 Sugar maple - basswood
27 Sugar maple
28 Black cherry - maple
30 Red spruce - yellow birch
32 Red spruce
33 Red spruce - balsam fir
37 Northern white-cedar
39 Black ash - American elm - red maple
40 Post oak - blackjack oak
42 Bur oak
43 Bear oak
45 Pitch pine
46 Eastern redcedar
53 White oak
55 Northern red oak
60 Beech - sugar maple
62 Silver maple - American elm
73 Southern redcedar
75 Shortleaf pine
79 Virginia pine
Habitat: Plant Associations
This species is known to occur in association with the following plant community types (as classified by Küchler 1964):
K082 Mosaic of K074 and K100
K093 Great Lakes spruce - fir forest
K095 Great Lakes pine forest
K099 Maple - basswood forest
K100 Oak - hickory forest
K101 Elm - ash forest
K102 Beech - maple forest
K103 Mixed mesophytic forest
K104 Appalachian oak forest
K106 Northern hardwoods
K107 Northern hardwoods - fir forest
K108 Northern hardwoods - spruce forest
K110 Northeastern oak - pine forest
K111 Oak - hickory - pine forest
This species is known to occur in the following ecosystem types (as named by the U.S. Forest Service in their Forest and Range Ecosystem [FRES] Type classification):
FRES10 White - red - jack pine
FRES11 Spruce - fir
FRES13 Loblolly - shortleaf pine
FRES14 Oak - pine
FRES15 Oak - hickory
FRES17 Elm - ash - cottonwood
FRES18 Maple - beech - birch
FRES19 Aspen - birch
Flower-Visiting Insects of Checkerberry in Illinois
(this plant is also called Wintergreen; bees suck nectar; observations are from Reader)
Apidae (Bombini): Bombus spp. sn, Psithyrus sp. sn
mycelium of Oidiodendron maius is endomycorrhizal with live root of Gaultheria procumbens
Broad-scale Impacts of Plant Response to Fire
The following Research Project Summaries provide information on prescribed
fire use and postfire response of plant community species, including wintergreen,
that was not available when this species review was originally
Plant Response to Fire
The response of wintergreen to fire and its role in fire related
succession seems to be highly variable.
In southwestern Nova Scotia, wintergreen survived a July fire. The
following summer density (stems/9 sq ft) and frequency (%) on covered
and uncovered quadrats were as follows :
Density 0.3 0
Frequency 20 0
In southeast Manitoba, five plots were burned in April. No prefire data
were given. Results from the end of August showed the average frequency
of wintergreen was 54 percent and the average cover was 3.8 percent.
Different levels of shade (0-100 %) had little or no effect .
Percent frequency of wintergreen was monitored for 2 years after a fall
(September) prescribed fire on a jack pine clearcut in northern
Michigan. Little change occurred, at least in the first year. Results
are given :
Unburned blocks Burned blocks
% frequency % frequency
1980 5.6 5.4
1981 4.6 0.8
Some research indicates that wintergreen is sensitive to fire. A spring
controlled fire was conducted on bracken fern (Pteridium
aquilinum)-grassland in Wisconsin. Sampling was done in July and August
of the year of the fire. The average frequency of wintergreen decreased
by 25.8 percent . In the Pine Barrens of northern Wisconsin,
wintergreen average frequency decreased from 28 to 14 percent 1 year
after a spring fire . In the New Jersey Pine Barrens, wintergreen
became less important with increasing fire frequencies. Fire
frequencies ranged from annual to 15-year intervals . Wintergreen
in this area exploit fire-generated gaps in litter through clonal
Other studies indicate that fire may favor wintergreen. In northwest
Minnesota, a severe May fire burned only the uppermost centimeters of
the forest floor. Wintergreen cover in unburned stands was 0 to 5
percent. After fire it was present in several associations and
increased through the sixth year following fire to a maximum cover of
6.2 percent. Biomass increased after fire, more in dry than moist
stands, but leveled off after the second year, perhaps because of the
low-bush growth form of wintergreen .
In a survey of the burned-over forest lands in southwestern Nova Scotia,
frequencies of wintergreen related to years since fire were as follows
postfire yr % frequency
Immediate Effect of Fire
Rhizomatous low woody plant, rhizome in organic mantle
Secondary colonizer - off-site seed
Wintergreen is not well-adapted to fire that removes litter and/or the
organic layer of soil. Rhizomes are restricted to the upper 0.8 to 1.2
inches (2-3 cm) of the organic layer, and wintergreen usually does not
survive if the organic layer is removed by fire . The rhizomes are
especially vulnerable to severe fire . If wintergreen survives, the
fire was probably of short duration or light enough that the fire
removed only aboveground vegetation and little litter .
Wintergreen rhizomes can tolerate brief exposure to high temperatures.
In one study its rhizomes were collected in spring, summer, and fall and
subjected to wet heat. Maximum shoot growth and number of stems
occurred after spring-collected rhizomes were placed in a water bath at
131 degrees Fahrenheit (55 deg C) for 5 minutes. Rhizomes died when
subjected to a 140 degrees Fahrenheit (60 deg C) bath for 5 minutes
More info for the terms: bog, climax, cover, frequency, succession
Facultative Seral Species
Wintergreen is shade tolerant. Fruiting, however, usually occurs in
openings [23,32,50]. It is a common understory species in the
Northeast . In a Minnesota Norway pine (P. resinosa) forest,
wintergreen had greatest abundance of cover under intermediate light
Wintergreen is found in the oldest vegetation in Grass River Bog, an
undrained sand plain in the Adirondacks .
Wintergreen is part of the understory vegetation in climax pine forests
of northern Minnesota .
In eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) climax forest in northeastern
Pennsylvania, wintergreen frequency ranged from 0 to 6 percent .
In the Algonquin Provincial Park, Ontario, wintergreen was present in
early and climax stages of forest succession . Frequency in the
birch-poplar (Betula spp.-Populus spp.) stage was 58 percent; it was
"abundant" in the pine stage. Frequency was 36 percent in the
fir-spruce (Abies spp.-Picea spp.) stage. Wintergreen was not present
in the sugar maple (Acer saccharum) stage, but frequency was 14 percent
in eastern hemlock climax forest .
Reproduction in wintergreen is both sexual and asexual. It typically
reproduces vegetatively from rhizomes. Vegetative growth is initiated
as additional branching on old stems, or as new stems on creeping
rhizomes . The long, infrequently branching rhizomes distribute
ramets over large areas; it exploits gaps in litter for clonal
propagation [23,50]. Bird-disseminated seeds are probably the source of
new plants colonizing old fields [32,41].
In the oak-pine upland forest of the Pine Barrens of New Jersey,
wintergreen occurrence was positively correlated (p less than 0.05) with the
presence of litter and dead wood .
Growth Form (according to Raunkiær Life-form classification)
More info for the terms: geophyte, hemicryptophyte
Life History and Behavior
Wintergreen flowers from the end of May to September depending on
geographic location [10,37]. In Illinois, wintergreen flowers initiated
during June open in mid-July, with the fruit maturing in September .
In New Jersey and Penn Sylvia, the flowering period is from mid-July
through early August . The leaves usually persist throughout the
winter [27,32]. The fruit may remain attached till the following spring
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Barcode data: Gaultheria procumbens
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Gaultheria procumbens
Public Records: 3
Specimens with Barcodes: 9
Species With Barcodes: 1
National NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded National Status Rank: N5 - Secure
Rounded National Status Rank: N5 - Secure
NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded Global Status Rank: G5 - Secure
Wintergreen is ordinarily plentiful in the woodlands of the Northeast,
and no special care is needed to perpetuate it. Seedlings or clones are
established by plantings beneath taller shrubs or in other partially
shaded sites. When plants have established, fruit production is
stimulated by thinning timber stands and removing overtopping vegetation
Wintergreen can be controlled by phenoxy herbicides .
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Importance to Livestock and Wildlife
but the regularity of its use enhances its importance. Its fruit
persists through the winter and it is one of the few sources of green
leaves in winter . White-tailed deer browse wintergreen throughout
its range, and in some localities it is an important winter food. Other
animals that eat wintergreen are wild turkey, sharp-tailed grouse,
northern bobwhite, ring-necked pheasant, black bear, white-footed mouse,
and red fox. Wintergreen is a favorite food of the eastern chipmunk, and
the leaves are a minor winter food of the gray squirrel in Virginia
Gaultheria procumbens, also called the Eastern teaberry, the checkerberry, the boxberry, or the American wintergreen, is a species of Gaultheria native to northeastern North America from Newfoundland west to southeastern Manitoba, and south to Alabama. It is a member of the Ericaceae (heath family).
G. procumbens is a small low-growing shrub, typically reaching 10–15 centimeters (3.9–5.9 in) tall. The leaves are evergreen, elliptic to ovate, 2–5 cm long and 1–2 cm broad, with a distinct oil of wintergreen scent. The flowers are bell-shaped, 5 mm long, white, borne solitary or in short racemes. The berry-like fruit is actually a dry capsule surrounded by fleshy calyx, 6–9 mm diameter.
The plant is a calcifuge, favoring acidic soil, in pine or hardwood forests, although it generally produces fruit only in sunnier areas. It often grows as part of the heath complex in an oak-heath forest.
G. procumbens spreads by means of long rhizomes, which are within the top 20–30 mm of soil. Because of the shallow nature of the rhizomes, it does not survive most forest fires, but a brief or mild fire may leave rhizomes intact, from which the plant can regrow even if the above-ground shrub was consumed.
The fruits of G. procumbens, considered its actual "teaberries," are edible, with a minty flavor, and the leaves and branches make a fine herbal tea, through normal drying and infusion process. For the leaves to yield significant amounts of their essential oil, they need to be fermented for at least 3 days.
Wintergreen is not taken in large quantities by any species of wildlife, but the regularity of its use enhances its importance. Its fruit persist through the winter and it is one of the few sources of green leaves in winter. White-tailed deer browse wintergreen throughout its range, and in some localities it is an important winter food. Other animals that eat wintergreen are wild turkey, sharp-tailed grouse, northern bobwhite, ring-necked pheasant, black bear, white-footed mouse, and red fox. Wintergreen is a favorite food of the eastern chipmunk, and the leaves are a minor winter food of the gray squirrel in Virginia.
Other common names for G. procumbens include "American mountain tea," "boxberry," "Canada tea," "canterberry," "checkerberry," "chickenberry," "chinks," "creeping wintergreen," "deerberry," "drunkards," "gingerberry," "ground berry," "ground tea," "grouseberry," "hillberry," "mountain tea," "one-berry," "partridge berry," "procalm," "red pollom," "spice berry," "squaw vine," "star berry," "spiceberry," "spicy wintergreen," "spring wintergreen," "teaberry," "wax cluster," and "youngsters."
The plant has been used by various tribes of Native Americans for medicinal purposes.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Gaultheria procumbens.|
- Germplasm Resources Information Network: Gaultheria procumbens
- Dwelley, Marilyn J. (1977). Summer & Fall Wildflowers of New England. Down East Enterprise, Inc. p. 60. ISBN 0-89272-020-4. Retrieved 2008-08-10.
- Yü-Liang Chou 1952. Floral morphology of three species of Gaultheria: Contributions from the Hull Botanical Laboratory. Botanical Gazette 114:198–221 First page free
- Gaultheria procumbens, Fire Effects Information System
- The Natural Communities of Virginia Classification of Ecological Community Groups (Version 2.3), Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, 2010
- Schafale, M. P. and A. S. Weakley. 1990. Classification of the natural communities of North Carolina: third approximation. North Carolina Natural Heritage Program, North Carolina Division of Parks and Recreation.
- Borealforest: Gaultheria procumbens
- Gibbons, Euell. "Stalking the Healthful Herbs." New York: David McKay Company. 1966. pg. 92.
- This section incorporates text from Gaultheria procumbens, Fire Effects Information System, a public domain work of the US government.
- Lust, John (1974). The Herb Book. Bantam Books. p. 404. ISBN 0-553-26770-1. Retrieved 2008-08-10.
- Hall, Joan Houston (2002). Dictionary of American Regional English. Harvard University Press. p. 47. ISBN 0-674-00884-7. Retrieved 2007-11-16.
Names and Taxonomy
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