Chimaphila umbellata


Pipsissewa, Chimaphila umbellata

Pipsissewa, BWCAW
Photo © by Earl J.S. Rook

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The natural history of the northwoods


  • Chimaphila, from the Greek ceima (cheima),"winter"; and filos (philos), "lover". Hence, "winter lover", an appropriate name for a circumboreal genus of cold climate evergreen shrublets.
  • umbellata, from the Latin, "umbrella", literally "little shadows", a reference to the flower cluster
  • Common Name, from the Cree pipsisikweu, "it breaks into small pieces", a reference to its use for the treatment of gall and kidney stones.
  • Other common names include Bitter Wintergreen, Gagigebug (Ojibwe, "everlasting leaf"), Ground Holly, Love-In-Winter, Pine Tulip, Prince's Pine, Rheumatism Weed, Waxflower, Ryl (Sweden), Sarjatalvikki (Finland), Umbellate Wintergreen (UK), Pomocnik baldaszkowy (Pol)


  • Kingdom Plantae, the Plants
    • Division Magnoliophyta, the Angiosperms (flowering plants)
      • Class Magnoliopsida, the Dicotyledons
      • Subclass Dilleniidae
        • Order Ericales
          • Family Pyrolaceae, the Wintergreens, with Pyrolas (Shinleafs)
            • Genus Chimaphila, the Prince's Pines
  • Taxonomic Serial Number: 23769
  • Also known as Pyrola umbellata


  • A native broadleaf evergreen shrublet or perennial rhizomatous herb.
  • Stems woody, 4"-12" tall.
  • Leaves lanceolate, whorled, thick, leathery, and sharply serrate.
  • Fruits depressed, globose capsules which often persist through winter.
  • Flowers white, bell-like, often with a touch of pink, in 2 or 3 flower umbels.
  • Additional photos



  • Circumboreal; Newfoundland to Alaska south to California and Mexico, and east to Colorado, and South Dakota. It is also found in the eastern United States from Maine south in the mountains to Georgia and west to Minnesota.


  • Wide variety of soils and soil moisture regimes. Most commonly occurs in mixed woods and coniferous forests on dry, well-drained, rocky or sandy soils. In Ontario, most often on sandy or rocky soil on well-drained sites, on gravel terraces, and in Jack Pine (Pinus banksiana) barrens. In Red Pine (Pinus resinosa)/White Pine (Pinus strobus) forests of Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota, on dry, shallow, well-drained, nutrient poor to medium loamy sand to sandy loam soils. In the BWCA, on shallow, sandy soils to deep soils with a high clay content.
  • Moderately shade tolerant to tolerant. Its highest frequency or cover is probably reached at intermediate light levels, such as in relatively open conifer stands.
  • Present throughout succession and in stands of all ages. Found in relatively young stands, but probably more frequent in mid-successional stages and mature forests.
  • Dry or moist sites in pine woods
  • Sandy, acid soil (pH 5 to 6)


  • Fire-sensitive species that is very susceptible to damage and often shows a strong decline following fire. Moderate to high probability of being killed by fire, though low severity fires that do not consume the organic mantle may only top kill it. Survival probably depends to a great extent on damage to rhizomes, so it depends on depth of rhizomes, fire severity, and consumption of duff. Loss of the long-lived evergreen leaves may also reduce survival.
  • Postfire vegetative recovery depends primarily on the survival of scattered individuals in undisturbed microsites.



  • Used by Native Americans to brew a tea
  • Roots and leaves were boiled and the infusion ingested as a treatment for tuberculosis and long-lasting colds. The leaves were also used as an astringent.


  • Can be used as an ingredient in root beer.
  • Sold as a medicinal herb; contains ericolin, arbutin, chimaphilin, urson, tannin, and gallic acid
  • The bruised leaves can sometimes induce redness, vesication, and irritation of the skin


  • Reproduces by seed and vegetatively by rhizomes.
  • Flowers pollinated by bumblebees and staphylinid beetles. Develops numerous, minute seeds.
  • Produces long rhizomes that normally grow at a fast rate. Genets are generally long-lived.
  • Flowers July/August


  • By seed, started in July in a mix of acid peat and sand in cold frame.
  • By division in early spring


  • Hardy to USDA Zone 3 (average minimum annual temperature -40ºF)
  • Pipsissewa is extremely difficult to grow in the garden.



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Last updated on 7 March, 2006