spotted wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata)
striped prince's pine
This species shares common names (e.g., pipissewa) with a similar spec-
ies - Chimaphila umbellata.
Chimaphila maculata (L.) Pursh var. dasystemma (Torr.) Kearney &
CONFIRMATION STATUS: Pending confirmation.
TAXONOMY: The currently accepted scientific name of spotted winter-
green is Chimaphila maculata (L.) Pursh.
NATIVE STATUS: Native, United States and Canada.
GENERAL BOTANICAL CHARACTERISTICS:
Habit: Spotted wintergreen is a perennial, low, woody, evergreen herb or
half-shrub that spreads by creeping rhizomes to form sparse patches and
which can reach 25cm in height (10 inches). As an herb, it reaches heights
of 3 to 6 inches; as an evergreen shrub it can grow to 1ft by 1ft 8in. On
shrubs, twigs are reddish brown and slender. Only some of the smooth
stems in a population produce flowers.
Leaves: It has dark green, variegated leaves 2-7 cm in length, and 6-26
mm in width. The variegation of the leaves arises from the conspicuous
white stripes along veins contrasted with the dark blue-green of the leaf.
The leaves are alternate but appear whorled (leaves in whorls of two or
three), are evergreen, thickened, broadest toward the base, lance shaped
with sharp serration, 1 1/2 to 3 inches long. Leaves found along the stem,
but mostly concentrated near the base of the plant.
Flowers: The fragrant, nearly round flowers are waxy white or pinkish,
with 5 reflexed petals 1/2 inch across, appearing in a small group at the
end of a terminal spike in early summer. Flowers either solitary or in pairs (sometimes several), nodding or hanging face down. The flowers are herm-
aphrodite (have both male and female organs). Flowers insect pollinated.
Fruit/Seeds: The flowers mature to small, erect, dry brown (6 to 8 mm in diameter) capsules baring the seeds of the plant, which are dispersed by
Roots: Spotted wintergreen uses creeping rhizomes.
REGENERATION PROCESS: Spotted wintergreen propogates itself
by reseeding and by vegetative spreading through rhizomes. This species
has complex regenerative requirements; disturbances in its immediate
environment can significantly restrict its propogation. It is difficult to pro-
pagate and grow in cultivation, mainly because it has specific mycorrhizal
associations in the wild and these are necessary if the plant is to thrive.
HABITAT TYPES: Spotted wintergreen requires sandy habitats in dry-
mesic oak-pine woods. It is frequently found under pines. It does best in
full to partial canopy on slight slopes.
SITE CHARACTERISTICS: The plant prefers light (sandy), medium
(loamy) and heavy (clay) soils.The plant prefers acid, neutral and basic
(alkaline) soils and requires a light moist but well-drained lime-free soil
and shade from direct sunlight.
SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT: Spotted wintergreen is in flower from
June to August.
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION: Spotted wintergreen is distributed in
the eastern United States, almost exclusively east of the Missouri/Mississ-
ippi Rivers (it has been introduced into Arizona). It ranges from Florida to
Maine. It has been reported in Ontario and Quebec (where it has generally
been extricated), although both situations are extemely limited. Its only
significant Canadian occurrence is in southern Ontario where there are
perhaps four extant locations. All extant stations are very close to one of
the Great Lakes. The ameliorating effect of these large bodies of water on
the local climate may be an important factor in the distribution of the
SKY MEADOWS DISTRIBUTION: To be determined.
IMPORTANCE AND USES: Bees suck spotted wintergreen nectar
while bumblebees are the primary pollinators of the flowers. Long-
tongued bees are also associated with spotted wintergreen. Apidea
bees, including Apis mellifera (western honey bee), Bombus bimacul-
atus (the two-spotted bumble bee), and Bombus vagans (half-black
bumble bee) have been observed coming to spotted wintergreen.
Hunters have found it as stomach contents in grouse during winter
months, and it may be used as food by other birds and wildlife.
The plants stoloniferous root system, and dwarf spreading habit make it a
good ground cover, though it is a difficult plant to establish and grow well.
With its wide-spreading fibrous feeding roots, it will often die or fail to
increase in size if these are disturbed.
The plant is analgesic, antibacterial, astringent, diaphoretic, diuretic,
febrifuge, rubefacient, stimulant and tonic. The plant has an antiseptic
influence on the urinary system and is sometimes used in the treatment
of cystitis. An infusion of the plant has been drunk in the treatment of
rheumatism and colds. A poultice of the root has been used to treat pain
whilst the plant has also been used as a wash on ulcers, scrofula and can-
cers. All parts of the plant can be used, though only the leaves are offici-
nal. The plant is loaded with the biologically active compounds arbutin,
sitosterol and ursolic acid. Arbutin hydrolyzes to the toxic urinary
Spotted wintergreen was listed in the US Pharmacopeia from 1820 to
1916. Native Americans of various tribes had a number of uses for the
plant. A leaf tea was used it for rheumatism, as a diuretic, sudorific, for
kidney and urinary complaints, for stomach problems, as a tonic. It has
also been used to flavor other medicine. The leaves were applied exter-
nally on wounds and sores. However, when applied to the skin, leaves
may irritate causing redness and blisters.
There is some question as to its value as a diuretic. It has proven value
as urinary antiseptic, astringent, tonic and does have antibacterial prop-
erties. Spotted wintergreen is still used as a flavoring in such products
as candy and root beer.
The leaves are used as a snack, being nibbled for their refreshing qualities.
In Mexico the herb is used as a catalyst in the preparation of 'tesguino', an
alcoholic beverage produced from sprouted maize.
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