Epigaea repens (Trailing Arbutus)

Plant Info
Also known as: Mayflower, Ground Laurel
Family:Ericaceae (Heath)
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
Wetland Indicator Status:none
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 Flower shape: tubular

[photo of flowers] 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.

[photo of bracts] 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: Leaf attachment: alternate Leaf type: simple

[photo of leaves] 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: Fruit type: capsule/pod

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.

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More photos

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?

Posted by: Evelyn - Willmar
on: 2015-05-02 01:08:07

My mother used to gather arbutus every spring where I grew up in Grand Rapids, MN. I can still remember the lovely scent. Nothing quite like it. There used to be a nursery that sold wild flower plants. I can't find one now. Do you know of one? Evelyn

Posted by: Connie - Eveleth; Long Lake
on: 2015-05-05 16:04:33

Have been on a quest looking for this flower for many years. My Auntie Mae-Mae talked about how abundant they were when she was a child, their wonderful smell, and their gradual disappearance. The wait was worthwhile! Beautiful.

Posted by: Brandon - Embarrass, MN
on: 2016-03-25 14:36:52

Already in late March with thick patches of snow all around, the arbutus in the white spruce plantations have flower buds in tight bud state. They are in companion in the open grassy meadows with sweetfern myrica.

Posted by: Janet - Bemidji
on: 2016-05-04 20:08:46

Located many plants blooming in the Lost Forty. (both white and pink!) I too have been longing for years to see/photograph this elusive beauty. What a thrill!

Posted by: Marilyn L - Waskish area
on: 2017-04-26 21:02:24

Beautiful flower. We had a late April snowstorm but was still able to see the beautiful little flowers showing through the snow!

Posted by: Barbara W - St. Paul. MN
on: 2018-05-02 20:17:10

Is it too late to come up North to look for them this year? May3, 2028? Are they still showing up?

Posted by: John Olson - Big Falls / Maple Grove
on: 2019-05-23 18:40:18

We would pick these flowers and Dad would fly a bouquet to Mrs Einarson in International Falls, they had the flying service at the airport. A fun time in the woods and topped off with an airplane ride!

Posted by: Elaine
on: 2020-05-23 18:03:28

I see these every year on the Gunflint trail

Posted by: gary - St. Louis County
on: 2021-06-26 20:29:01

Growing on rock outcrops in the vicinity of Jeanette Lake.

Posted by: Carol Hughes
on: 2021-09-08 20:38:42

My mother just passed away. She grew up in northern Wisconsin and always talked about the smell of arbutus. It grew under the trees. Does anyone know where I order some or some seed packets? Trailing white.

Posted by: Karin Bickle
on: 2022-09-24 17:57:14

Obtained book "Adventures of a 'Wild' Plants Woman", by Norma Phillip. Published in 1988, Norma and her husband collected, propagated and sold plants in Minnesota. She writes of trailing arbutus that it is difficult to transplant. "Conserving this delightful plant by seed or cutting is a worthwhile project." "Admire them, sniff them, and leave them in their native home."

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