Category Archives: Subshrub

Subshrub ID: Trailing-arbutus

Photo of Trailing-arbutus flowering

With egg-shaped, evergreen leaves and distinctly hairy, woody stems, Trailing-arbutus (Epigaea repens), a member of the Heath (Ericaceae) family, is a short subshrub who is recognizeable year-round. In early spring, flower buds that have been present for months at the tips of twigs begin to swell and open, revealing fragrant, white or pink flowers (you may need to bring your nose close to a cluster of flowers to notice their sweet scent).

Photo of Trailing-arbutus flowers and flower buds

Trailing-arbutus is the provincial flower of Nova Scotia and the state flower of Massachusetts. Another common name is Mayflower, which apparently refers not to the month of the year, but rather to the famous ship associated with Plymouth Colony pilgrims.

Photo of Trailing-arbutus stem

While this plant's flowers are a familiar and welcome sight to me, I've yet to see the fruit of this creeping plant. Last summer, Mary Holland shared a photo of some developing fruit on her Naturally Curious blog. With the help of her search image, I figure it's just a matter of time before I discover some fruit for myself.

Photo of Trailing-arbutus patch

Subshrub ID: Red Bearberry

Photo of Red Bearberry

Red Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) is an evergreen subshrub of mountaintops, rocky outcrops, grasslands, and sandy sites and grows wild in northern parts of Europe, Asia, and North America. The shrub's leaves are thick and shiny, about 1" long, and widest near the tip. The sprawling stems are noticeably fuzzy, and, with the use of a hand lens or loupe, fine hairs are also visible on the margins of young leaves. Continue reading Subshrub ID: Red Bearberry

Subshrub ID: Eastern Spicy-wintergreen

Photo of Eastern Spicy Wintergreen

Eastern Spicy-wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) is an evergreen subshrub of the forest floor. The plant's leathery leaves grow clustered on short upright stems. The red, pea-sized fruit dangles from the center in bunches or singly, as is the case above. The fruit is edible, if a bit mealy, with a minty flavor. The leaves, when chopped up and steeped as a tea, or simply nibbled, release a similarly pleasant flavor. Other common names for Gaultheria procumbens include Checkerberry, Teaberry, and Spiceberry. This subshrub can be distinguished from Partridge-berry in that the latter features smaller, oppositely-arranged leaves and fruit with a distinct pair of "eyes".

Subshrub ID: Partridge-berry

Photo of Partridge-berry Flowers

A common evergreen groundcover in the pine and oak forests near my home is a plant called Partridge-berry (Mitchella repens). This subshrub is recognized by mats of paired, white-veined leaves and sparse red fruits that ripen in summer but can persist into the following year. Each fruit has two small eye-like depressions -- lasting evidence of the paired flowers that preceded fruiting. Though essentially tasteless, these small fleshy drupes are edible. I often sample one or two when I encounter a healthy population.

Photo of Partridge-berry Fruit

Note: Top photo taken in July, bottom photo in December. Find more Partridge-berry photos and info at the New England Wildflower Society's Go Botany site.

Subshrub ID: Spotted Prince’s-pine

Photo of Spotted Prince's-pine fruit

This plant is Chimaphila maculata, referred to as Spotted Prince's-pine by my trusty (if somewhat technical) plant manual*, but labeled Striped Pipsissewa by many other books. This subshrub has waxy, blue-green leaves, with whitened veins and toothed margins. Drooping summer flowers later ripen and stand erect as brown capsules (see above). While the leaves of Noble Prince's Pine look different from those of this species, the similarity of their flower and subsequent fruit structures suggest their close relationship.

Photo of Spotted Prince's-pine

*Flora Novae Angliae by Arthur Haines (2011)