Gaultheria procumbens


Gaultheria procumbens, Wintergreen.  Green Lake, BWCAW

Wintergreen, Little Beartrack Lake, BWCAW
Photo © by Earl J.S. Rook

Flora, fauna, earth, and sky...
The natural history of the northwoods


  • Gaultheria, for Jean Franois Gaultier (1708-1756), Canadian physician and botanist who made botanical studies of the Quebec region with Swedish botanist Peter Kalm (1716-1779). Kalm, an associate of Linnaeus, named the genus Gaultheria in honor of Gaultier in 1753.
  • procumbens, from the Latin, "prostrate"
  • Common Name from its evergreen leaves.
  • Other common names include Box Berry, Checkerberry, Deerberry, Eastern Teaberry, Ground Holly, Mountain Tea, Creeping Wintergreen, Ground Tea, Partridge-Berry, Petit the du bois (Quebec, "little tea of the woods"), Redberry Wintergreen, Spice Berry, Teaberry, Winisibugons (Ojibwe, "dirty leaf")


  • Taxonomic Serial Number: 23657
  • Also known as Pyrola umbellata, Gaultheria repens, Brossea procumbens
  • Assigned by some to Family Pyrolaceae, the Pyrolas (Shinleafs).


  • A ¼, ½, ¾, º, é
  • Leaves
  • Stem
  • Roots
  • Flowers
    • Sepals
    • Petals
    • Stamens
    • Pistils
    • Ovary superior (within blossom) inferior (below flower)
  • Fruit
  • Seed
  • A broadleaf evergreen shrublet.
  • Leaves thick, toothed, glossy, lanceolate, 4 "- 8".
  • Flowers white, bell-like, often with a touch of pink, in 2 or 3 flower umbels.
  • Fruit a berry, reddish violet, globose, 6-9 mm long; minty, with a rather spongy texture.
  • Seeds many, orange-yellow, wedge shaped, 1-1.3 mm long, 0.8-1 mm wide, wingless.


  • Identifiable as
  • Distinguished from
  • Field Marks


  • Alaska to Newfoundland,
  • Circumboreal


  • Open shade
  • Dry or moist sites in pine woods
  • Sandy, acid soil (pH 5 to 6)
  • Dry to wet woods and clearings; white pine woods, sandy, peaty pine/oak scrub, sphagnum bogs, pine barrens, swamps. Dry and moist upland peat and wet sphagnum peat.




  • Used by Native Americans to brew a tea
  • Mohawks, as well as Ojibwes, and others, knew the tea as medicinal as well as a healthful beverage. It contains methyl salycliates, the active painkilllers of asprin, useful for colds, headaches, and to bring down fevers. Such names as "teaberry" emphasize importance as a year-round beverage, and as a food flavoring for meat and fish cooked with fermented leaves.


  • 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
  • Oil of Gaultheria, or wintergreen oil, is derived via steam distillation. It contains methyl salicylate, which is antiseptic, analgesic, carminative, and antirheumatic. Overdoses of wintergreen oil can be toxic.
  • Medicine: A tea from the leaves eased symptoms of rheumatism. Oil of wintergreen has aspirin-like properties.
  • Food: The leaves were used as a potherb or eaten as a snack. Bright red berries ripen in autumn and improve with freezing so harvest them in the winter or spring.


  • Sexually by seed
  • Flowers
  • Assexually by
  • Reproduces by seed and vegetatively by rhizomes
  • Flowers July/August. Small, bell-like white flowers in early to mid-summer
  • Birds and rodents eat the berries in the winter.
  • Pollination by Bumblebees (Bombus spp). Flowers most commonly visited by Bombus species (B. bimaculatus, B. griseocollis, B. impatiens, B. perplexus, B. ternarius, B. terricola, B. vagans) but also visited by Apis mellifera. Autogamy is possible but usually not very effective.
  • Seed dispersal by animal consumers


  • 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)
  • Cultural Requirements
    • Sun
    • Soil
    • Water
    • Spacing
    • Fertilization
  • Size 12"-18"W x 12"-18"H
  • Growth rate
  • Good for
  • Cultivars include
    • variety 'Alba', with
  • Cultivars and species available by mail order from specialty suppliers or at local nurseries
  • Partial shade and acidic soil with plenty of organic matter.
  • Spreads by stolons at an approximate rate of 4"-6" annually.



Valley Internet Company
Return to Home Page
Send Feedback to Webmaster

Last updated on 29 August, 2004