HEATH FAMILY - Ericaceae: Creeping Wintergreen; Checker-berry; Partridge-berry; Mountain Tea; Ground Tea, Deer, Box, or Spice Berry
Flowers--White, small, usually solitary, nodding from a leaf axil. Corolla rounded bell-shape, 5-toothed; calyx 5-parted, persistent; 10 included stamens, their anther-sacs opening by a pore at the top. Stem: Creeping above or below ground, its branches 2 to 6 in. high. Leaves: Mostly clustered at top of branches; alternate, glossy, leathery, evergreen, much darker above than underneath, oval to oblong, very finely saw-edged; the entire plant aromatic. Fruit: Bright red, mealy, spicy, berry-like; ripe in October.
Preferred Habitat--Cool woods, especially under evergreens.
Distribution--Newfoundland to Georgia, westward to Michigan and Manitoba.
"Where cornels arch their cool, dark boughs o'er beds of wintergreen," wrote Bryant; yet it is safe to say that nine colonies out of ten of this hardy little plant are under evergreens, not dogwood trees. Poets make us feel the spirit of Nature in a wonderful way, but--look out for their facts!
Omnivorous children who are addicted to birch-chewing prefer these tender yellow-green leaves tinged with red, when newly put forth in June--"Youngsters" rural New Englanders call them then. In some sections a kind of tea is steeped from the leaves, which also furnish the old-fashioned embrocation, wintergreen oil. Late in the year the glossy bronze carpet of old leaves dotted over with vivid red "berries" invites much trampling by hungry birds and beasts, especially deer and bears, not to mention well-fed humans. Coveys of Bob Whites and packs of grouse will plunge beneath the snow for fare so delicious as this spicy, mealy fruit that hangs on the plant till spring, of course for the benefit of just such colonizing agents as they. Quite a different species, belonging to another family, bears the true partridge-berry, albeit the wintergreen shares with it a number of popular names. In a strict sense neither of these plants produces a berry; for the fruit of the true Partridge Vine (Mitchella repens) is a double drupe, or stone bearer, each half containing four hard, seed-like nutlets; while the wintergreen's so-called berry is merely the calyx grown thick, fleshy, and gayly colored--only a coating for the five-celled ovary that contains the minute seeds. Little baskets of wintergreen berries bring none too high prices in the fancy fruit and grocery shops when we calculate how many charming plants such unnatural use of them sacrifices.