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Gaultheria

Ericaceae
Evergreen, Ground covers, Shrubs

These shrubs bear urn-shaped flowers and fleshy, berrylike fruit. They all need moist, acid soil rich in organic matter. Smaller kinds are favored for rock gardens and woodland plantings. Larger kinds are good companions for other acid-loving shrubs such as rhododendrons and azaleas.

Gaultheria procumbens

Native to eastern North America. Creeping stems send up erect branches to 6 in. high, with oval, 2-in., glossy dark green leaves clustered toward the tips. Foliage emits a strong wintergreen odor when bruised and turns reddish with winter cold. Small pinkish white summer flowers are followed by scarlet berries. Both berries and foliage have the flavor of wintergreen (or teaberry). Use as a groundcover; plant 1 ft. apart.

‘Macrocarpa’ is a compact variety bearing a heavy crop of fruit.

‘Red Baron’ has notably large fruits.

Gaultheria shallon (photo courtesy of Monrovia)
Gaultheria shallon (photo courtesy of Monrovia)

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Gaultheria shallon

Native from the central Cali­fornia coast north to British Columbia. In good growing conditions, can reach 4–10 ft. tall and slightly wider; in poor, dry soil and full sun, it’s a tufted plant only 1–2 ft. tall (makes a good low bank cover in these circumstances). Glossy bright green leaves are nearly round, 1 3/4–4 in. long. Loose, 6-in.-long clusters of white or pinkish flowers on reddish stalks bloom in spring. Edible black fruits resembling large huckleberries follow the blossoms; they’re bland flavored, but birds like them. Only neglected plantings need pruning; cut back in spring, remove dead wood, and mulch with organic material such as leaf mold or peat moss.

Cut branches are sold by florists as “lemon leaves.”

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