This section is from the book "The Standard Cyclopedia Of Horticulture Vol2", by L. H. Bailey. See also: Western Garden Book: More than 8,000 Plants - The Right Plants for Your Climate - Tips from Western Garden Experts.
(Greek, epi, upon, gala, earth; in reference to the trailing growth). Ericaceae,. Evergreen spring-blooming plants, herbaceous in appearance but with woody creeping stems, sometimes planted.
Leaves alternate, petiolate, entire, leathery: flowers usually dioecious, sometimes perfect, in short terminal or pseudo-axillary spikes, each in the axil of a green bract and with 2 green bractlets; sepals 5, green; corolla pink or white, salver-shaped, with 5 lobes; stamens 10, attached to the base of the corolla-tube, the 2-celled anthers dehiscing by slits not, as is usual in the Ericaceae, by pores; style columnar; stigma 5-lobed; ovary densely hairy, 5-celled, with many ovules: fruit depressed-globose, fleshy, dehiscent along the partitions, the many minute seeds set on the surface of the white succulent placentae. - Two species, N. E. Amer, and Japan.
Linn. Trailing Arbutus. Mayflower. Fig. 1399. Spreading on the ground in patches sometimes 2 ft. diam., the hirsute stems rooting: If . - blades ovate-oblong to orbicular, cordate or rounded at the base, obtuse or broadly acute at the apex, sparingly hirsute on the margins and both surfaces, 1-3 in. long: flowers fragrant, the corolla-lobes spreading, those of the male flowers much larger than the female; stamens in the female flowers often reduced to mere rudiments of filaments; stigmas spreading in the female flowers, folded together in the male: fruit berry-like after dehiscence, the axis, dissepiments, and placentae fleshy. Newfoundland to Sask., south to Fla., Ky., and Wis. - It grows only in acid soils.
Trailing arbutus, probably the best beloved of all the early wild flowers of the eastern United States, is rarely seen in cultivation. Yet it thrives in the same acid peaty sandy well aerated soils as the blueberry, and like the blueberry it has in and on its roots a myco-rhizal fungus upon which it probably depends for nutrition. One of the most satisfactory potting mixtures is nine parts finely sifted kalmia peat, one part clean sand, and three parts clean broken crocks. In watering the plants one should use rain-water, bog-water, or some other water free from lime.
Wild plants may be transplanted, preferably in autumn or very early spring, care being taken to lift a large portion of the root-mat without disturbing the roots. Such plants should be kept in a coldframe or coolhouse and until abundant new roots are formed should receive little or no direct sunlight. They may be propagated by division or by layers, but the resulting plants are seldom symmetrical.
The best method of propagating trailing arbutus is by the seed. The fruit, which is often borne in abundance on vigorous female plants, ripens at the same season as the wild strawberry. At maturity and while still herbaceous the wall of the fruit splits from the center into five valves which turn backward in a green rosette exposing the white fleshy edible berry-like interior, 1/4 to 1/3 of an inch in diameter and dotted with seeds. The fruits disappear quickly after dehiscence, commonly within a few hours, being eagerly sought by ants, snails, and birds. A fruit bears usually 300 to 500 seeds. The seeds, which are easily separated from the pulp by rubbing between the fingers, should be sown at once in a well-drained shallow box, in a mixture of two parts finely sifted kalmia peat and one part of clean sand, covered about 1/16 of an inch with the same material, and watered slowly but thoroughly with a very fine rose. If covered with a glass and kept away from direct sunlight a second watering may not be required before germination. The seeds come up in three to four weeks, and in their earliest stages after germination often require protection from ants. This is best accomplished by setting the seed-boxes on pots inverted in saucers of water.
In the heat of summer young seedlings, and older plants as well, can not stand full sunlight. A lath shade with spaces of the same width as the lath usually furnishes sufficient protection. In the third or fourth month from germination, when the plants are about 3/8 of an inch in diameter, they should be potted in 2-inch pots in the mixture of peat, sand, and crocks already described, and the pots plunged in sand in shallow boxes.
If carried through the first winter in a greenhouse, with a night temperature of 55° to 60° and a day temperature of about 65° to 70°, the plants continue their growth all winter, and in the following summer some of them even without transfer to larger pots will lay down a few clusters of flower-buds, in preparation for the next spring's blooming, when they are a year and a half old. Many of the plants, however, do not flower until they are two and a half years old, their rosettes having reached a diameter of about 7 to 10 inches.
Fig. 1399. Trailing arbutus or Mayflower-Epigaea repens.
The flower-buds are formed from midsummer to autumn. If the plants are kept in a warm greenhouse during the winter the flower-buds seldom open. To make them open normally the plants must be subjected to a prolonged period of chilling. Actual freezing is not necessary. The best chilling temperature for the greenhouse is a little above freezing, about 35°. Alternate freezing and thawing, with strong sunlight, is likely to injure the foliage. Strong sunlight without freezing heightens the color of the flowers. After two to three months of chilling the plants may be forced, if early flowers are desired, by alternating the same low night temperature with a day temperature of 45° to 60°. Plants kept in a cool humid atmosphere often remain in flower three to four weeks, redolent with their well-known delightful fragrance. The male flowers, with their yellow centers, are much larger and prevailingly much pinker than the green-centered female flowers. In cultivated plants the corollas sometimes have a spread of 7/8 of an inch. The most robust plants have been secured by plunging the pot in moist sphagnum in a pot of 2 inches greater diameter.
The roots then grow through the hole in the bottom of the inner pot and develop profusely in the moist, well aerated sphagnum of the outer pot. Old plants which have become ragged at the center may be revivified by cutting the stems back almost to the main root immediately after flowering. They then throw out a new circle of branches with new and bright foliage and flower profusely the following spring.
Frederick V. Coville.