Striped Wintergreen

This week for Flora and Fauna Friday, we have an evergreen ornament of the winter woods, Striped Wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata).

Striped Wintergreen is found throughout the Eastern United States and across South Carolina but is most common along the Appalachians. It’s a distant member of the Heath family, which includes Rhododendrons and Blueberries. It’s a very small, perennial plant rarely ever amounting to more than a three-inch stem and seven leaves. It’s found almost exclusively and ubiquitously in the deeply shaded forest floors of upland woodlands. Striped Wintergreen gets its name from its leaves, which are evergreen, oppositely arranged, leathery with a sparsely toothed margin, and colored a dark blue-green with a thick, pale stripe down the center. Further inland, it’s one of the few evergreen plants found below the winter woods and resembles few other plants in the southeast, making it very easy to find and identify. In late May, Striped Wintergreen begins to bloom. It produces a flower stalk that nearly triples the plant’s height to a miniscule 8-inches tall. This flower stalk is thin and straight, ending in a streetlight-shaped set of arches, each ending in a single flower. These five-petalled, pendulous white flowers curl open to create an inverted bowl and are pollinated primarily by bumblebees. Pollinated flowers mature to produce a dry fruit, which is held above the plant for several months more. Striped Wintergreen is not an ecosystem defining species nor is it a species that is integrally dependent on complex mutualistic relationships with its neighbors. It’s simply a species that has done quite well for itself, living a quiet life on its own accord between the shadows of giants.

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