Index of Species Information

SPECIES:  Gaultheria procumbens


SPECIES: Gaultheria procumbens
AUTHORSHIP AND CITATION : Coladonato, Milo. 1994. Gaultheria procumbens. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: []. ABBREVIATION : GAUPRO SYNONYMS : NO-ENTRY SCS PLANT CODE : GAPR2 COMMON NAMES : wintergreen teaberry TAXONOMY : The currently accepted scientific name for wintergreen is Gaultheria procumbens L. (Ericaceae) [18]. There are no recognized subspecies, varieties, or forms. LIFE FORM : Shrub FEDERAL LEGAL STATUS : No special status OTHER STATUS : NO-ENTRY


SPECIES: Gaultheria procumbens
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION : Wintergreen occurs from Newfoundland and New England south in the mountains to Georgia and west to Minnesota [13,32]. ECOSYSTEMS :    FRES10  White - red - jack pine    FRES11  Spruce - fir    FRES13  Loblolly - shortleaf pine    FRES14  Oak - pine    FRES15  Oak - hickory    FRES17  Elm - ash - cottonwood    FRES18  Maple - beech - birch    FRES19  Aspen - birch STATES :      AL  CT  DE  GA  IL  IN  KY  ME  MD  MA      MI  MN  NH  NJ  NY  NC  OH  PA  RI  TN      VT  VA  WV  WI  MB  NB  NF  NS  ON  PE      PQ BLM PHYSIOGRAPHIC REGIONS : NO-ENTRY KUCHLER PLANT ASSOCIATIONS :    K082  Mosaic of K074 and K100    K093  Great Lakes spruce - fir forest    K095  Great Lakes pine forest    K099  Maple - basswood forest    K100  Oak - hickory forest    K101  Elm - ash forest    K102  Beech - maple forest    K103  Mixed mesophytic forest    K104  Appalachian oak forest    K106  Northern hardwoods    K107  Northern hardwoods - fir forest    K108  Northern hardwoods - spruce forest    K110  Northeastern oak - pine forest    K111  Oak - hickory - pine forest SAF COVER TYPES :      1  Jack pine     12  Black spruce     13  Black spruce - tamarack     14  Northern pin oak     15  Red pine     16  Aspen     17  Pin cherry     18  Paper birch     19  Gray birch - red maple     20  White pine - northern red oak - red maple     21  Eastern white pine     23  Eastern hemlock     24  Hemlock - yellow birch     25  Sugar maple - beech - yellow birch     26  Sugar maple - basswood     27  Sugar maple     28  Black cherry - maple     30  Red spruce - yellow birch     32  Red spruce     33  Red spruce - balsam fir     37  Northern white-cedar     38  Tamarack     39  Black ash - American elm - red maple     40  Post oak - blackjack oak     42  Bur oak     43  Bear oak     45  Pitch pine     46  Eastern redcedar     53  White oak     55  Northern red oak     57  Yellow-poplar     60  Beech - sugar maple     62  Silver maple - American elm     73  Southern redcedar     75  Shortleaf pine     79  Virginia pine SRM (RANGELAND) COVER TYPES : NO-ENTRY HABITAT TYPES AND PLANT COMMUNITIES : Wintergreen is commonly found in the understory of pine (Pinus spp.) and hardwood forests of New England.  In western Nova Scotia and the Great Lake States, it occurs in jack pine (P. banksiana) and spruce-larch (Picea spp.-Larix spp.) forests [4,20,53,59].  It is a common understory species in maple-oak (Acer spp.-Quercus spp.) forests of upper Michigan [52].  It is a dominant understory shrub of oak-poplar/fern (Quercus spp.-Populus spp./Pteridium spp.) communities of southern New York [60]. Wintergreen is named as a dominant or codominant understory species in the following classifications: Habitat classification system field guide:  northern Lake States Region   (Upper Peninsula of Michigan and northeast Wisconsin) [8] Forest-type studies in the Adirondack Region [19] Field guide to forest habitat types of northern Wisconsin [21] Vegetation of the Great Smoky Mountains [42] Understory species commonly associated with wintergreen include huckleberries (Gaylussacia spp.), blueberries (Vaccinium spp.), raspberries (Rubus spp.), grapes (Vitis spp.), mountain-laurel (Kalmia latifolia), Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia), witchhazel (Hamamelis virginiana), bog Labrador tea (Ledum groenlandicum), partridgeberry (Mitchella repens), and lily-of-the-valley (Maianthemum canadense), [7,24,35,42].


SPECIES: Gaultheria procumbens
IMPORTANCE TO LIVESTOCK AND WILDLIFE : Wintergreen is not taken in large quantities by any species of wildlife, but the regularity of its use enhances its importance.  Its fruit persists through the winter and it is one of the few sources of green leaves in winter [32].  White-tailed deer browse wintergreen throughout its range, and in some localities it is an important winter food.  Other animals that eat wintergreen are wild turkey, sharp-tailed grouse, northern bobwhite, ring-necked pheasant, black bear, white-footed mouse, and red fox.  Wintergreen is a favorite food of the eastern chipmunk, and the leaves are a minor winter food of the gray squirrel in Virginia [26,37]. PALATABILITY : NO-ENTRY NUTRITIONAL VALUE : NO-ENTRY COVER VALUE : NO-ENTRY VALUE FOR REHABILITATION OF DISTURBED SITES : NO-ENTRY OTHER USES AND VALUES : The leaves of wintergreen are used to make oil of wintergreen [27] OTHER MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS : Wintergreen is ordinarily plentiful in the woodlands of the Northeast, and no special care is needed to perpetuate it.  Seedlings or clones are established by plantings beneath taller shrubs or in other partially shaded sites.  When plants have established, fruit production is stimulated by thinning timber stands and removing overtopping vegetation [32]. Wintergreen can be controlled by phenoxy herbicides [32].


SPECIES: Gaultheria procumbens
GENERAL BOTANICAL CHARACTERISTICS : Wintergreen is a spreading, evergreen, rhizomatous shrub which grows 4 to 8 inches (10-20 cm) tall [5,11,28].  Wintergreen creeps along the ground, forming a dense carpet of shiny leaves that are 2 to 6 inches (5-15 cm) long.  The small flowers are less than 0.5 inches (1.2 cm) long and are borne at the base of the leaves [27].  The fruit is berrylike capsule with a large fleshy calyx [45].  The roots are 1 inch (2.5 cm) or less in depth [14,31]. RAUNKIAER LIFE FORM :    Hemicryptophyte    Geophyte REGENERATION PROCESSES : Reproduction in wintergreen is both sexual and asexual.  It typically reproduces vegetatively from rhizomes.  Vegetative growth is initiated as additional branching on old stems, or as new stems on creeping rhizomes [55].  The long, infrequently branching rhizomes distribute ramets over large areas; it exploits gaps in litter for clonal propagation [23,50].  Bird-disseminated seeds are probably the source of new plants colonizing old fields [32,41]. In the oak-pine upland forest of the Pine Barrens of New Jersey, wintergreen occurrence was positively correlated (p<0.05) with the presence of litter and dead wood [50]. SITE CHARACTERISTICS : As long as the soil is acidic, wintergreen grows well on many substrates including peat, sand, sandy loam, and coal spoils.  It has been found growing where soil pH ranged from 3.5 to 6.9 on the surface to 4.0 to 6.9 below the surface.  However, a pH of 4.5 to 6.0 has been reported as optimum for growth, with 7.0 the maximum wintergreen tolerates. Wintergreen mainly occurs on moist sites but tolerates moisture conditions ranging from dry to poorly drained [2,32]. In jack pine communities in upper Michigan, wintergreen was present on xeric, transitional, and mesic sites with frequencies of 11, 62, and 86 percent, respectively [3].  In Nova Scotia, wintergreen is found on the tops of ridges and knolls in very shallow soil [58]. SUCCESSIONAL STATUS : Wintergreen is shade tolerant.  Fruiting, however, usually occurs in openings [23,32,50].  It is a common understory species in the Northeast [9].  In a Minnesota Norway pine (P. resinosa) forest, wintergreen had greatest abundance of cover under intermediate light intensities [56]. Wintergreen is found in the oldest vegetation in Grass River Bog, an undrained sand plain in the Adirondacks [43]. Wintergreen is part of the understory vegetation in climax pine forests of northern Minnesota [57]. In eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) climax forest in northeastern Pennsylvania, wintergreen frequency ranged from 0 to 6 percent [47].   In the Algonquin Provincial Park, Ontario, wintergreen was present in early and climax stages of forest succession [49].  Frequency in the birch-poplar (Betula spp.-Populus spp.) stage was 58 percent; it was "abundant" in the pine stage.  Frequency was 36 percent in the fir-spruce (Abies spp.-Picea spp.) stage.  Wintergreen was not present in the sugar maple (Acer saccharum) stage, but frequency was 14 percent in eastern hemlock climax forest [49]. SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT : Wintergreen flowers from the end of May to September depending on geographic location [10,37].  In Illinois, wintergreen flowers initiated during June open in mid-July, with the fruit maturing in September [45]. In New Jersey and Penn Sylvia, the flowering period is from mid-July through early August [55].  The leaves usually persist throughout the winter [27,32].  The fruit may remain attached till the following spring [45].


SPECIES: Gaultheria procumbens
FIRE ECOLOGY OR ADAPTATIONS : Wintergreen is not well-adapted to fire that removes litter and/or the organic layer of soil.  Rhizomes are restricted to the upper 0.8 to 1.2 inches (2-3 cm) of the organic layer, and wintergreen usually does not survive if the organic layer is removed by fire [15].  The rhizomes are especially vulnerable to severe fire [54].  If wintergreen survives, the fire was probably of short duration or light enough that the fire removed only aboveground vegetation and little litter [14]. Wintergreen rhizomes can tolerate brief exposure to high temperatures. In one study its rhizomes were collected in spring, summer, and fall and subjected to wet heat.  Maximum shoot growth and number of stems occurred after spring-collected rhizomes were placed in a water bath at 131 degrees Fahrenheit (55 deg C) for 5 minutes.  Rhizomes died when subjected to a 140 degrees Fahrenheit (60 deg C) bath for 5 minutes [14]. POSTFIRE REGENERATION STRATEGY :    Rhizomatous low woody plant, rhizome in organic mantle    Secondary colonizer - off-site seed FIRE REGIMES : Find fire regime information for the plant communities in which this species may occur by entering the species name in the FEIS home page under "Find Fire Regimes".


SPECIES: Gaultheria procumbens
IMMEDIATE FIRE EFFECT ON PLANT : Fire top-kills wintergreen [15].  Surviving rhizomes may sprout [16,30,33,54].   PLANT RESPONSE TO FIRE : The response of wintergreen to fire and its role in fire related succession seems to be highly variable. In southwestern Nova Scotia, wintergreen survived a July fire.  The following summer density (stems/9 sq ft) and frequency (%) on covered and uncovered quadrats were as follows [26]:                covered           exposed    Density       0.3                0    Frequency    20                  0 In southeast Manitoba, five plots were burned in April.  No prefire data were given.  Results from the end of August showed the average frequency of wintergreen was 54 percent and the average cover was 3.8 percent. Different levels of shade (0-100 %) had little or no effect [46]. Percent frequency of wintergreen was monitored for 2 years after a fall (September) prescribed fire on a jack pine clearcut in northern Michigan.  Little change occurred, at least in the first year.  Results are given [1]:           Unburned blocks         Burned blocks             % frequency           % frequency    1980          5.6                   5.4    1981          4.6                   0.8 Some research indicates that wintergreen is sensitive to fire.  A spring controlled fire was conducted on bracken fern (Pteridium aquilinum)-grassland in Wisconsin.  Sampling was done in July and August of the year of the fire.  The average frequency of wintergreen decreased by 25.8 percent [38].  In the Pine Barrens of northern Wisconsin, wintergreen average frequency decreased from 28 to 14 percent 1 year after a spring fire [39].  In the New Jersey Pine Barrens, wintergreen became less important with increasing fire frequencies.  Fire frequencies ranged from annual to 15-year intervals [44].  Wintergreen in this area exploit fire-generated gaps in litter through clonal propagation [50]. Other studies indicate that fire may favor wintergreen.  In northwest Minnesota, a severe May fire burned only the uppermost centimeters of the forest floor.  Wintergreen cover in unburned stands was 0 to 5 percent.  After fire it was present in several associations and increased through the sixth year following fire to a maximum cover of 6.2 percent.  Biomass increased after fire, more in dry than moist stands, but leveled off after the second year, perhaps because of the low-bush growth form of wintergreen [51].   In a survey of the burned-over forest lands in southwestern Nova Scotia, frequencies of wintergreen related to years since fire were as follows [48]:    postfire yr      % frequency        1                10.5        2                16.6        9                 4.0       22                40       29                48.2       40                40
The following Research Project Summaries provide information on prescribed
fire use and postfire response of plant community species, including wintergreen,
that was not available when this species review was originally written:


SPECIES: Gaultheria procumbens
REFERENCES :  1.  Abrams, Marc D.; Dickmann, Donald I. 1984. Floristic composition before        and after prescribed fire on a jack pine clear-cut site in northern        lower Michigan. Canadian Journal of Forest Research. 14: 746-749.        [7236]  2.  Archambault, Louis; Barnes, Burton V.; Witter, John A. 1989. Ecological        species groups of oak ecosystems of southeastern Michigan. Forest        Science. 35(4): 1058-1074.  [9768]  3.  Beaufait, W. R.; Brown, R. T. 1962. Phytogeography of a representative        outwash plain jack pine site. Papers of the Michigan Academy of Science,        Arts & Letters. 47: 201-209.  [7239]  4.  Braun, E. Lucy. 1950. Deciduous forests of eastern North America.        Philadelphia, PA: Blakiston Books. [pages unknown].  [19812]  5.  Braun, E. Lucy. 1961. The woody plants of Ohio. Columbus, OH: Ohio State        University Press. 362 p.  [12914]  6.  Bernard, Stephen R.; Brown, Kenneth F. 1977. Distribution of mammals,        reptiles, and amphibians by BLM physiographic regions and A.W. Kuchler's        associations for the eleven western states. Tech. Note 301. Denver, CO:        U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management. 169 p.        [434]  7.  Cain, Stanley A. 1931. Ecological studies of the vegetation of the Great        Smoky Mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee. Botanical Gazette. 91:        22-41.  [10340]  8.  Coffman, Michael S.; Alyanak, Edward; Resovsky, Richard. 1980. Field        guide habitat classification system: For Upper Peninsula of Michigan and        northeast Wisconsin. [Place of publication unknown]: Cooperative        Research on Forest Soils. 112 p.  [8997]  9.  Collins, Scott L.; Good, Ralph E. 1986. 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