Plant of the Week: Wintergreen

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Author: 
Maeve Turner
Photo by Friends of the High LineYou may know Gaultheria procumbens as "wintergreen," one of the plant's common names. Photo by Friends of the High Line.

The High Line’s planting design is inspired by the self-seeded landscape that grew up between rail tracks after the trains stopped running in the 1980s. Today, the High Line includes more than 300 species of perennials, grasses, shrubs, and trees – each chosen for their hardiness, adaptability, diversity, and seasonal variation in color and texture. Some of the species that originally grew on the High Line’s rail bed are reflected in the park landscape today.

This week we share one of our gardeners’ current favorites with you.

Gaultheria procumbens, also known as tea berry or wintergreen, is a low-growing broadleaf evergreen native to the moist woodland forests of Eastern North America. The bell-shaped flowers that emerge from Gaultheria procumbens in early to mid-summer are similar to those of blueberries, cranberries, and Andromeda – a common landscape plant. These flowers give way to bright red berries that catch your eye in the autumn, under glossy dark green foliage that gradually turns a deep purple during the onset of winter. A member of the heath family, Gaultheria spreads by underground roots, or rhizomes, and makes an excellent choice for an evergreen groundcover, especially in a shady area.

As its common name "wintergreen" implies, extracts from the fruit and leaves of this plant were once used for flavoring candies, chewing gum, and toothpaste. Today, manufacturers have largely replaced wintergreen with a synthetic version of the flavor, methyl salicylate. Traditionally, leaves have been ground up to use for arthritis or other muscle aches, and tea brewed from the leaves has been used to treat colds, headaches, stomachaches, fevers, and kidney ailments – although making tea from the leaves is no longer recommended. The genus Gaultheria honors Jean-Francois Gaultier, botanist and plant collector from the 18th century who also served as physician to the king of the French colony of Quebec from 1742 through 1756.

WHERE TO SEE THIS PLANT
In the bog on the High Line between West 14th and 15th Streets.

Download our November Bloom Guide.