Botany

Trailing Arbutus Plant Profile



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The Trailing Arbutus is a shrub that is a member of the Ericaceae family. The scientific classification is Epigaea repens. It grows low on the ground and spreads quickly. The native range for the Trailing Arbutus is from Newfoundland to Florida, the Northwest Territories and west to Kentucky. It is said by some to be the first flower the Pilgrims say when the arrived in the new world. The Trailing Arbutus is also known as the Mayflower, Mountain Pink, Gravel Plant, Winter Pink and Ground Laurel.

It is hard to cultivate and the large numbers of flower hunters who like it have caused some damage while trying to transplant it. It is not considered endangered at this time.

The leaves were used as a diuretic tea and a tonic for stomach problems by the Native American people. Cattle have been known to become ill when they eat this plant. 

The Trailing Arbutus blossoms early in the spring and can last all the way through the first snowfall of the year. It only grows a few inches tall, and has a shrubby, trailing stalk. The roots grow from the stalk joints and have what is known as a mycorrhiza relationship with the soil. This simply means that the fungus in the soil gives the plant the nutrients it needs to do well. The evergreen leaves are stalked and broadly ovate (oval). They are around one to one and a half inches long with a rough wavy edge and a stunted point. The nerves, leaf stalks and the branches of the leaves are hairy. The flowers grow on the branch ends. They grow in thick clusters. The blooms are white with a red tinge. They have a wonderful scent and are divided into five sections. When open they look like a star.

Transplanting the Trailing Arbutus is not a good idea. It needs the nutrients from the fungus in the soil to grown well and it is almost impossible to duplicate these conditions in a garden. It  rows in partial shade and needs free soil, that has decayed leaf compost in abundance. Since it is susceptible to cold wind it does best in sheltered areas. It can often be found sheltering in the shade of oak trees. It also does well in sandy loam in well drained soil.

While it is possible with a lot of care and work to cultivate this plant, it is still best to leave it in it's natural habitat for everyone to enjoy and not risk future damage to the fate of the species.

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