Gaultheria procumbens L. - Wintergreen
Native , Frequent
By Steven Clemants
Not peer reviewed
Last Modified 02/06/2013
Field IdentificationA low subshrub with urceolate white flowers and red fruit.
Food usesDisclaimer: The information provided here is for reference and historical use. We do not recommend nor do we condone the use of this species for food purposes without first consulting a physician.
Gaultheria procumbens is a source of "wintergreen oil," which was used as a flavoring in candies, chewing gum, and some medicine. The berries are cooked into pies and eaten raw during the winter by some tribes. The leaves are used as a tea called mountain tea.
Medicinal usesDisclaimer: The information provided here is for reference and historical use. We do not recommend nor do we condone the use of this species for medicinal purposes without first consulting a physician.
Oil of Gaultheria, or wintergreen oil, is derived via steam distillation. It contains methyl salicylate, which is antiseptic, analgesic, carminative, and antirheumatic. The root, chewed six weeks each spring by young people, prevents toothache and tooth caries.
Disclaimer: The information provided here is for reference and historical use. If you believe you have been poisoned, please contact the Poison Control Office near you (look for the number in the front of the phone book).
Overdoses of wintergreen oil can be toxic.
Nomenclature*Gaultheria procumbens L., Sp. Pl. 1: 395. 1753. *Gaultheria repens Raf., Med. Fl. 1: 202, t. 40. 1828, nom. illeg. (Art. 52.1). *Brossea procumbens (L.) Kuntze, Revis. Gen. Pl. 2: 388. 1891. TYPE: Location and collector unknown. (Lectotype: L., Nova Pl. Gen. II: f. 6. 1751), selected by (Middleton, 1991).
*Gaultheria procumbens f. suborbiculata Fernald, Rhodora 22(261): 155-156. 1920. TYPE: United States. Massachusetts: Harwichport, Harwich, 11 May 1919, M. L. Fernald 18921 (Holotype: GH! #00055523). [leaves suborbicular]
*Gaultheria procumbens f. elongata Svenson, Rhodora 25: 184. 1923. TYPE: United States. New Hampshire: Grafton Co.; Sqaum Lake, 1921, H. K. Svenson s.n. (Syntypes: NEBC!, Camp Algonquin Herbarium).
*Gaultheria procumbens f. accrescens Fernald & A. R. Hodgdon., Rhodora 36: 129. 1934. TYPE: United States. Massachusetts: Barnstable Co., nr. Hyannis Pumping-Sta., N of Mary Dunn Pond, 28 Oct 1933, Fernald et al. 2667 (Holotype: GH! #00055524; Isotypes: NEBC!, US!; photos NY-neg 11128 of US isotype). [persistent and enlarged corolla, fruit campanulate]
*Gaultheria procumbens f. leucocarpa F. C. MacKeever, Rhodora 63: 346-347. 1961. TYPE: United States. Massachusetts: Nantucket Island; Tom Nevers Head, 12 Aug. 1959, Frank C. MacKeever N309 (Holotype: NY).
The lectotype of the Linnaean name is not cited in the original protologue and therefore should be a neotype if there is no better lectotype.
DescriptionHABIT perennial, evergreen, chamaephyte, subshrubs, autotrophic, monoclinous, with adventitious roots and with fibrous roots, 0.05-0.15 m tall.
STEMS procumbent, round, not winged, "regular". Prickles absent. Bark striate, not exfoliating, reddish orange or light greenish yellow. Branches erect, light red, round, not winged, 0.7-1.1 mm in diam. Twigs light greenish yellow, round, 0.7-1.1 mm in diam., smooth, hairs short and unbranched, spreading, unicellular, uniseriate, white, sparse, throughout, not glabrescent,without glands. Thorns absent. Aerial roots absent. Sap translucent. Resin absent.
LEAVES alternate or subopposite or opposite or whorled, 1-3 per node, crowded toward stem apex, divergent from stem, simple. Stipules absent. Leaves petiolate, petiole "typical", 0.3-0.5 cm long, hairs short and unbranched, spreading, unicellular, uniseriate, moderately dense, throughout, not glabrescent, without glands. Leaf: abaxial surface greenish yellow, adaxial surface yellowish green, blades elliptic or obovate, plane, symmetric, 1.5-4.3 cm long, 0.9-2.8 cm wide, coriaceous, base cuneate or acute, margin dentate, apex acute or obtuse or mucronate, abaxial surface hairs short and unbranched, spreading, unicellular, uniseriate, white, sparse, along midveins, glabrescent, without glands, adaxial surface hairs short and unbranched, spreading, unicellular, uniseriate, white, sparse, along midveins, glabrescent, without glands. Eucamptodromous venation, veins 3-5. Leaf lobes absent. Spines absent. Tendrils absent.
INFLORESCENCES monomorphic, regular or, if dimorphic, female inflorescence simple, single flower, axillary. Peduncle present, 0.7-0.8 cm long. Rachis absent. Bracteoles 2, sessile, at apex of pedicel, not connate, bracteoles: abaxial surface yellowish orange, bracteole: adaxial surface yellowish orange, depressed ovate, plane, 1.1-1.8 mm long, 1.6-1.8 mm wide, base obtuse, margin ciliate, apex obtuse. Cupules absent.
FLOWERS serotinous, formed on long shoots, monomorphic, with sepals and petals readily distinguishable from one another, bisexual, flowers white, 5-merous, 1 mm long, 1.8 mm wide, 1 flowers per inflorescence, perianth of two whorls. Calyx present, actinomorphic, acetabuliform, of fused sepals, deciduous, abaxial and adaxial surfaces the same color, white (turning reddish violet in fruit), 2.9-5 mm long, calyx limb 1.3-1.6 mm long, 3-3.5 mm wide, 1.3-1.6. Sepals or sepal lobes 5, deltate, 0.9-2.2 mm long, 1-2.3 mm wide, base truncate, margin undulate, apex acute, abaxial surface glabrous, without glands, adaxial surface glabrous, without glands, conivent with fruit. Epicalyx absent. Corolla present, actinomorphic, urceolate, of fused petals, deciduous, abaxial and adaxial surfaces the same color, white, 6.5-7.2 mm long, 5.9-6.1 mm wide, corolla limb 6 mm long, 5.9-6.1 mm wide. Petals or petal lobes 5, "normal", deltate, 0.9 mm long, 1 mm wide, base truncate, margin undulate, apex acute, abaxial surface glabrous, without glands, adaxial surface glabrous, without glands. Gynoecium syncarpous. Carpels 5. Stigmas 1, capitate. Styles persistent, 1, 2.9-3.8 mm long. Ovary superior, nectiferous disk present (?). Locules 5. Placentation axile. Androecium obdiplostemonous. Stamens 10, 4.8 mm long. Opening by pores, bithecal, reddish orange, glabrous, awned, bifurcating. Filaments free, straight, white, hairs short and unbranched, erect, unicellular, uniseriate. Staminodes absent.
FRUIT a bacca (berry), reddish violet, globose, 6-9 mm long, 6-9 mm wide, glabrous, without glands.
SEEDS many, orange-yellow, wedge shaped, 1-1.3 mm long, 0.8-1 mm wide, wingless, not tailed, lineolate or lineate.
Dry to wet woods and clearings; white pine woods, chestnut-oak woods, sandy, peaty pine-oak scrub, oak-hickory woods, sphagnum bogs, pine barrens, swamps. Dry and moist upland peat and wet sphagnum peat with a pH of 4.5-6.
Rarity StatusHeritage global rank -- G5
Connecticut -- not listed
New Jersey -- not listed
New York -- not listed
June [week 1] - Aug [week 4].
(Lovell, 1898) (Mirick & Quinn, 1981) (Reader, 1977)
Melittophily -- Flowers most commonly visited by Bombus species (B. bimaculatus Cr., B. griseocollis DeG., B. impatiens Cr., B. perplexus Cr., B. ternarius Say, B. terricola Kby., and B. vagans Sm.) but also visited by Apis mellifera L.
Autogamy -- Autogamy is possible but usually not very effective.
June [week 3] - Nov [week 1] (May [week 4]).
(Alexander, 1927) (Cook & Hamilton, 1944)
Endozoochory -- The fruit is eaten by a variety of mammals and birds including: chipmunks (?), deer, grouse, and partridge.