Gaultheria (Wintergreen)

Wintergreens have aromatic, evergreen leaves and brilliant berries

Gaultheria is a genus of about 135 species of broadleaf evergreen shrubs, commonly called wintergreens, that offer year-round interest. Gaultheria procumbens (wintergreen, checkerberry, boxberry, spiceberry, teaberry), the most well-known species, won the Royal Horticultural Society Award of Garden Merit for its outstanding characteristics. A native understory plant, G. procumbens is indigenous to hardwood forests, woodlands, meadows, and fields in eastern regions of North America.

Highly ornamental, wintergreens are typically low-growing and make excellent ground cover. But they are also perfect for pots, and with their festive red berries and glossy leaves, they are becoming a favorite holiday plant. Attractive throughout the year, the leathery leaves are dark green during the growing season and turn red to purple in fall. However, a beautifully variegated green and white variety is now available, which flushes pink in winter. The plants bloom in clusters of small urn-shaped pink or white flowers in spring or summer. Round, fleshy, bright berries follow in fall. Both leaves and berries smell of wintergreen. The berries are edible and can be eaten raw or cooked. But left in the garden, they are an excellent winter food source for wildlife.

Wintergreens are charming garden plants that are easy to grow, low maintenance, and generally disease and pest free. They prefer full to partial shade and moist, organically rich soil with an acidic pH between 4.0 and 6.0. They grow slowly and spread by runners and rhizomes to form a dense colony. They are great for beds and borders and perfect for patio pots. But they are a gorgeous remedy for erosion on banks and slopes.

G. hookeri (hooker’s wintergreen), G. shallon (shallon bush), and G. fragrantissima (fragrant wintergreen) are also familiar species with similar attributes to G. procumbens