The bright red berries of this low-growing evergreen can easily be spotted on a walk through the New Jersey Pine Barrens or Harriman State Park in the Palisades. Though the fruit’s texture is somewhat mealy, the minty flavor is refreshing. In fact, wintergreen is a flavor in toothpastes and chewing gums.
In the Ericaceae family along with blueberries, huckleberries and cranberries, wintergreen thrives in acidic soils like those of the Pine Barrens. The members of this family have several distinguishing traits, including urn-shaped flowers and revolute leaves which fold under along the margins. White flowers appear in early to mid-summer, hanging just a few inches above the ground. The fruits ripen in late summer and often persist through much of the winter.
As the leaves drop from herbaceous perennials like rose mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos subsp. palustris) and Indian rhubarb (Darmera peltata), wintergreen becomes more noticeable in the High Line’s bog. At this time of year, the wintergreen’s leaves have deepened to shades of crimson and plum, but in summer, they are a shiny green that blends with the surrounding planting.
Procumbens means ‘prostrate’ in Latin and refers to wintergreen’s ground-hugging habit. This plant spreads slowly by rhizomes (underground stems) and, over time, will form an attractive groundcover with four-season interest. Thriving in a wide range of conditions, this New York native is a wonderful choice for tough spots. Consider it for shady locations, both wet and dry, and low-nutrient soils.
This slow-growing plant can easily be crowded out. Make sure to give it space and some shade. Native to both wetland edges and dry woods, wintergreen will tolerate a wide range of moisture conditions.
WHERE TO FIND THIS PLANT:
Diller Von Furstenburg Sundeck, in the bog between 14th and 15th St.
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