Plant of the Week
Bog Labrador Tea (Ledum groenlandicum Oeder)
By Stephen White
Bog Labrador tea is a native perennial shrub which inhabits the bogs, swamps and wet conifer forests of Canada and the northern United States. It is a member of the Ericaceae (Heath family). It can reach up to three feet tall and can often have multiple stems. Its alternate evergreen leaves are oval or oblong shaped. The leaves roll downward at the margins revealing an underside of thick orange hairs. The underside of new leaves will have white hairs. Fragrant flowers, which appear in late May to early June, are small (up to 1 centimeter). Bog Labrador tea has white five-parted flowers on finely hairy stalks 1to 2 centimeters long.
Bumble bees are pollinators of this shrub. White-tailed deer and moose will feed on Labrador tea, usually in the winter months when no other browse is available. However, it is generally considered to have low palatability. The plant is rarely bothered by insect pests, but sometimes can be infested with red or yellow fungus.
Following a fire that top-kills vegetation, bog Labrador tea will re-establish itself by sprouting from root crowns and rhizomes. Common plant associates include sphagnum mosses and other shrubs of the heath family, such as leatherleaf (Chamaedaphne calyculata) and bog rosemary (Andromeda glaucophylla).
As its common name implies, the fragrant leaves of this plant have been used to make a beverage and also a medicine. The genus name of the plant comes from the Greek Ledum and the species name groenlandicum means "of Greenland", referring to its northern distribution.