Wildflowers Monday – the Partridge berry

Mitchella repens – Partridge berry, twinberry, squaw vine

This is also in praise of little plants because partridge berry is a ‘ground hugger’, forming an excellent, evergreen carpet of small, rounded, shiny leaves with a whitish main vein. I can imagine it flowing over a big shaded boulder, mossy woodland humps or over a stony wall. But, sadly I have never seen it cultivated – little plants have sometimes difficulties to getting noticed…

Mitchella repens

Mitchella repens – partridge berry

Well-known and used traditionally by the Native Americans as a women’s herb (aid in menstrual complaints and childbirth, hence the name squaw vine); tested and still recommended by the modern herbal medicine. The berries were also used occasionally as food.

Mitchella repens flowers

Mitchella repens flowers – pink buds opening to white, tubular, fragrant flowers with fuzzy petals (you have to lay down to notice this); they are followed by large scarlet berries which are consumed by a variety of birds and mammals in late fall.

Mitchella repens fruits

Note: The name Mitchella was chosen by C. Linnaeus to honor his friend John Mitchell. A physician, keen naturalist and cartographer; he set up practice in America and over the years provided Linnaeus with information about many North American species, partridge berry included.

Thanks to someone’s comment regarding Mitchella cultivation, I realized I should mention that it is often found growing close to Gaultheria procumbens or on top of moss mounds, which indicates its inclination for a slightly acidic substrate. Give it a try! – not necessarily from seeds; the stems are easily rooting at the nodes and a small portion can be used same as a cutting (already rooted ;).

Mitchella and companions

Mitchella and companions (Gaultheria in the left-top corner)

6 replies
  1. Inger
    Inger says:

    I have tried to cultivate partridge berry several times and it just seems to wither away and do the opposite of flourishing So I have given up, but now I have to try again, probably in more shady moist conditions.

    • diversifolius
      diversifolius says:

      It doesn’t have to be really moist; in the woods can be found in relatively dry but shady areas too. It can be found sometimes together with Gaultheria, or on top of moss so I think it likes a slightly acidic substrate. I grew it for a few years in a container with Hepatica americana and did quite well.

    • diversifolius
      diversifolius says:

      I am sure few people here and there have it in the garden but that’s all. Interesting, considering that the stems are rooting at the nodes at can be propagated vegetatively easily. Maybe just a hard to see ;) little plant.

  2. Amy Olmsted
    Amy Olmsted says:

    I have also tried propping it and did grow it in pots for a while but it didn’t thrive for some reason. It grows all over the forest floor here and is traditionally used in small Christmas terrariums usually made in old brandy snifters!

    • diversifolius
      diversifolius says:

      Great idea for Christmas gifts! In Ontario is not that frequent and always in the same environment, moss and Gaultheria around, Hepatica. Not one to be grown in pots for long, same like
      Gaultheria; soon enough I will have garden space to give it a real try.

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