Pyrola minor (Small Shinleaf)

Plant Info
Also known as: Lesser Wintergreen
Family:Ericaceae (Heath)
Life cycle:perennial
  • State Special Concern
Habitat:part shade, shade; moist, cool forests and conifer swamps
Bloom season:July
Plant height:4 to 8 inches
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: FACU MW: none NCNE: FAC
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

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Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: 5-petals Cluster type: raceme

[photo of flowers] Raceme of 3 to 11 hanging flowers on short stalks at the top of the stem. Flowers are white, often tinged with pink or green, with five roundish petals 1/8 to ~¼ inch (3 to 5 mm) long and a ring of yellowish to brown-tipped stamens surrounding a short, straight, pale green style that does not extend below the petals. Flowers are up to 1/3 inch across when fully open, the petals not widely spreading.

[photo of calyx and floral bracts] The calyx cupping the flower has 5 lobes that are light green or tinged red, triangular, about as long as wide and about ¼ as long as the petals. At the base of a flower stalk is a papery bract, narrowly lance-triangular to egg-shaped, as long as or longer than the stalk.

Leaves and stems: Leaf attachment: basal Leaf type: simple

[photo of leaves] Leaves are basal, somewhat leathery, up to ~1 inch (to 30 mm) long, nearly as wide, roundish, broadest above, at or below the middle, hairless, mostly rounded at the tip, rounded to somewhat heart-shaped at the base, on a stalk that is as long as or shorter than the blade. Edges are shallowly scalloped to minutely toothed, often having obscure teeth with a minute point (denticulate). The upper surface is dark to medium green, dull to somewhat shiny. Flowering stems are smooth and may have a few scale-like leaves below the flower cluster.

Fruit: Fruit type: capsule/pod

[photo of fruit] Fruit is a capsule 1/8 to 1/6 inch (3 to 4 mm) long, wider than long, somewhat compressed globular with 5 sections, each containing many seeds.


Small Shinleaf is the rarest of Minnesota's five Pyrola species and also its smallest. It spreads by underground stems (rhizomes) and can be found in loose colonies of a few to dozens of plants. While it may be confused with our two other white Pyrolas, Round-leaved Pyrola (Pyrola americana) and Shinleaf (Pyrola elliptica), both of these have flowers that open widely, with a long curved style that hangs below the flower like an elephant's trunk. The leaves of Small Shinleaf resemble those of One-sided Pyrola (Orthilia secunda) and may be found growing right next to it, but the one-sided flowering stem of O. secunda sets these two apart. Small Shinleaf is also a far northern species, its range is restricted to cool, moist forests and swamps in the Arrowhead region with the vast majority in Cook County. Pyrola minor was listed by the DNR as a Special concern species in 1996. It is listed as Endangered in Wisconsin.

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka and Peter M. Dziuk taken in Cook County.


Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Posted by: Pam Troje - Itasca County on County Rd 4 near Sand Lake Mn. In the Chip
on: 2020-06-26 21:14:16

Walking with friends we were were looking at the blooming Lady Slippers and saw these plants near by. We couldn’t see the leaves at the bottom because of all the grasses. I looked at all the plants online that grow in MN and couldn’t find it . A book my mother gave me of flower drawings, bought in the 80’s is where I found it.... maybe. Wild flowers of America by H.W. Rickety. I hope it is right. It looked like coral bells.

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2020-06-27 06:24:15

Pam, what you saw was probably a different Pyrola. If you thought it resembled coral bells, which has pink flowers, then it was likely pink pyrola, which is common in Itasca County.

Posted by: Fred Schumacher - Greaney, northern St. Louis County
on: 2023-07-13 17:42:35

We have these growing along our driveway in the same spot we usually get purple fringed orchids. It's a wet area, but we have been so dry for three years that our fringed orchid count is way down.

Posted by: K Chayka
on: 2023-07-13 18:48:49

Fred, I suspect you have a different Pyrola in your yard. There are 3 other species with white(ish) flowers that are much more common in your part of the state.

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