White-veined Wintergreen

Members of the Pyrola genus are commonly called “wintergreens” because of their cold-hardiness. Even in the middle of winter their leaves are green under the snow.

White-veined wintergreen (Pyrola picta) is a native perennial of dry coniferous or mixed forests west of the Rockies in the United States and Canada. A member of the heath family, white-veined wintergreen is also commonly called painted pyrola and whitevein shinleaf.

Spreading by rhizomes, white-veined wintergreen has several basal leaves from which an erect, reddish flower stem rises. The evergreen leaves are ovate with entire margins, thick and leathery with the veins on the upper surface outlined in white. Some white-veined wintergreen plants lack leaves. These leafless plants are thought to be saprophitic (lives on dead organic matter). Last year I did two posts on leafless pyrola plants (“Pyrola” and “Leafless Wintergreen“), which may or may not be the same as white-veined wintergreen.

Waxy, white to greenish (occasionally purple) five-petaled flowers are clustered on the upper stem. The flowers have ten stamens (pollen-bearing organ) that are bent inward and a style (middle part of female organ) that protrudes and strongly curves downward. The short flower stalks are bent downward.

The fruit is a five-celled capsule that opens from the bottom when mature.

Wintergreen leaves are edible, but tough and bitter – not worth killing the plants. Native Americans used preparations of the leaves to treat skin irritations and insect bites in addition to mouth and throat irritations.

The genus name, Pyrola, comes from the Latin “pyrus” meaning pear and refers to the leaf shape (with imagination!). Also referring to the leaves, the species name, picta, means “brightly marked”.

White-veined wintergreen requires specific fungus in the soil to grow and thrive. Therefore it should not be taken from its habitat and transplanted.

These white-veined wintergreen plants were growing along the Lily Pond Trail in Lassen Volcanic National Park (Shasta County CA).

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