Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Partridgeberry -- © Dave Spier

Donna and I just returned from another extended camping trip in the Adirondacks where we frequently encountered a small, matted plant growing beside many of the trails. This species is widespread across New York and it's often found in moist woods.

In the fall, it's the small, red berries that first catch your attention. They're edible, but dry, seedy and tasteless, so leave them for the grouse to eat. I've never been fortunate enough to see a grouse [partridge] actually eating these fruits, but apparently that's how it got its name, Partridgeberry (Mitchella repens).

The plant's creeping stems, growing close to the ground, are lined with opposite pairs of rounded or slightly heart-shaped leaves, often sporting a light mid-rib [vein] down the center of each leaf. The leaves are small, less than an inch long and dark green year round.

In early summer, many of the trailing stems terminate in a forked pair of white or pink trumpet-shaped flowers, each with four or five petals. These turn into the scarlet berries (actually Siamese-twin berries) of fall.

Partridgeberries at Greenwood Creek State Forest (just outside the Blue Line)  © Dave Spier
(This is the first article in a loose series around the theme of Ruffed Grouse.)

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