Name: Gaultheria procumbens aka wintergreen.
Type of Plant: A low-growing, evergreen groundcover that is native to the Northeast.
Why I Love/Hate this plant: This is an interesting plant. First of all, it’s useful at this time of year when many garden centers sell it as a plant that can be used in urns, window-boxes, and pots. The leaves range from bright green to purple, and the plants are filled with big, red berries.
But beyond the holidays, wintergreen is a great winter food for wildlife, from squirrels and deer to assorted birds. People sometimes put the berries and leaves in a jar for three days, and then boil it up for tea. Historically the plant has been used to make oil of wintergreen, which has been used in chewing gum, candies, pastries, and toothpaste. It was used medicinally to make poultices for arthritis relief.
A Word to the Wise: When you buy a plant from the garden center the berries are huge. That’s because they were raised at a professional grower where they were given the optimum amounts of water and fertilizer. Once you plant this in a shady garden, the berries will normally be a bit smaller.