Vascular Plants of North Carolina
Account for Eastern Teaberry - Gaultheria procumbens   L.
Members of Ericaceae:
Only member of Gaultheria in NC.
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Section 6 » Order Ericales » Family Ericaceae
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DistributionScattered across nearly all of the state, but with local areas where it is quite scarce, such as much of the central and eastern Piedmont, the Sandhills and upper Coastal Plain, as well as absent along parts of the coast. Most widespread in the Mountains and the eastern/southern Coastal Plain.

This is a Northern species that ranges south only to southern NC, northwestern GA, and eastern TN; it is disjunct to northeastern AL.
AbundanceFairly common to locally common in most of the Mountains and foothills. Infrequent to locally fairly common in the eastern and much of the southern Coastal Plain. Oddly scarce and local across much of the central third of the state, despite seemingly suitable habitat.
HabitatAs with the Trailing Arbutus (Epigaea repens), this small “sub-shrub” grows in acidic forested habitats, mostly where somewhat dry and rocky, and as with that species it may often be seen close to, or under, rhododendrons or Mountain Laurel (Kalmia latifolia). In the Coastal Plain it grows in moist shrubby flatwoods, but always in acidic conditions. Despite many rocky and other steep slopes in the Piedmont, with many stands of Mountain Laurel or rhododendrons, this species is difficult to find in many areas there.
PhenologyBlooms in summer, mainly June to August; fruits from September to November.
IdentificationThis is another very low-growing “shrub” barely reaching a few inches tall, with only a few leaves per plant. If the red berry or the small white urn-shaped flowers can be seen, the species is easy to identify. However, the fairly typical elliptical, thick and shiny, evergreen leaves, growing about 1-1.5 inches long, can be mistaken for seedlings of other evergreen species, such as several holly species and especially Mountain Laurel – even though Teaberry almost always has tiny teeth on the leaf margins. If in doubt, break or tear a leaf and smell it; the species has a fragrant odor of wintergreen (an alternate common name). Field workers are quite familiar with both this species and Trailing Arbutus, and both can be found in the same places, though the arbutus is more widespread in the Piedmont.
Taxonomic CommentsNone

Other Common Name(s)Wintergreen is a popular common name, though that name can be confused with Chimaphila maculata, usually called Spotted (or Striped) Wintergreen. American Wintergreen, Checkerberry, and Boxberry are other common names.
State RankS4 [S5]
Global RankG5
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