Epigaea repens (Trailing Arbutus)
|Also known as:||Mayflower, Ground Laurel|
|Life cycle:||perennial woody|
|Habitat:||part shade, shade; moist to dry sandy or rocky acidic soil; pine forests, savannas, bogs|
|Bloom season:||April - May|
|Plant height:||1 to 3 inches|
|MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):|
|National distribution (click map to enlarge):|
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Tight clusters of up to 8, short-stalked, tubular flowers in the upper leaf axils and the tips of branches. Flowers are ½ inch across with 5 pink to white petals that are fused forming a tube 1/3 to ½ inch long. The inside of the tube is densely covered in white hairs.
The sepals behind the flower are narrowly egg-shaped with sharply pointed tips, nearly as long as the tube and variously covered in long rusty colored hairs. Flowers may be perfect (both male and female functioning parts), but more often unisex male or female due to underdeveloped parts. Flowers are very fragrant with a pleasant, spicy scent.
Leaves and stems:
Leaves are evergreen, stiff and leathery, alternate, ¾ to 4 inches long and ½ to 2 inches wide, toothless, egg-shaped to oval to oblong with a rounded or pointed tip, rounded or somewhat heart-shaped at the base, on a slender brown stalk. Surfaces are covered in long, stiff, rusty colored hairs but may become smooth with age. Stems are branched, prostrate or creeping along the ground. Younger stems are also covered in rusty hairs; older stems eventually become hairless, with flaking bark.
Fruit is a round, berry-like capsule about ¼ inch in diameter, covered in glandular hairs and filled with fleshy, white tissue.
A very short, slow growing shrub, more like ground cover, Trailing Arbutus is quite the beauty. A few references mention that plants with pink flowers become deeper pink with age, but the population we came upon at Willow River had both new and old flowers of a similar hue, so we cannot confirm that particular rumor is true. We did observe that the flowers seem quite fragile, degrading quickly (presumably) from a heavy rain the night before; the petals on many flowers spotted brown and some even becoming transparent. Some other members of the Heath family also have low, creeping growth patterns, but, besides the distinctly different flower shape, when not flowering the rusty hairs on Trailing Arbutus leaves and stems distinguish it from the rest.
Where to buy native seed and plants
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- Trailing Arbutus plant
- a clump of Trailing Arbutus
- white flowered Trailing Arbutus
- transparent petals
- Trailing Arbutus habitat
Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken near Willow River, Pine County.
Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?