The Partridgeberry is a member of the Madder Family. It is a member of the genus Mitchelia which came from the name John Mitchell who was a doctor that developed a way to treat yellow fever. Eastern North America from Newfoundland to Ontario and Minnesota, south to Texas and Florida are all areas where the Partridgeberry is found.The Partridgeberry is a woody,small, trailing vine. It is a perennial that can grow from six to twelve inches long. The plant has thin trailing stems that do not climb but lay flat on the floor of the forest.
The trailing stems root where they make contact with the surface of the forest. They form colonies that can spread and become several yards wide.They have dark green evergreen leaves. These leaves have a pale yellow midrib and are simple, opposite and ovate (shaped like an egg). The leaves have a short stalk and are about one half inch across. A pair of white flowers bloom in late spring. They each have four white petals and are pubescent. They join into a tube that is funnel shaped and edged with hairs.The flowers occur in two forms. The pistil is short and the stamens are long in the first form while the pistil is long and the stamens short in the second. For this reason, the flowers cannot fertilize themselves. In order to grow even one scarlet berry both flowers must be pollinated. The berries are the result of the fusion of each ovary. There are two red spots on the surface of each berry because it comes from both flowers.
The Partridgeberry blooms from late spring to early summer and is pollinated by insects. The scarlet berries themselves contain eight seeds and they are tasteless. The fruits are eaten by birds such as Northern Bobwhite, Sharp tailed Grouse, Ruffed Grouse and Wild turkeys. The seeds are spread through the birds.
Some gardeners cultivate the Partridgeberry for its shiny, bright green foliage and the ornamental red berries. It is often used as ground cover. The plants are used for Christmas decorations and the population of the plant have been negatively affected by overzealous collecting.
Tea was made from the berries and leaves by American Indian women to drink during childbirth. While the scarlet berries are edible they have very little taste. They have a slight wintergreen flavour and look somewhat like cranberries.