Members of the Pyrola genus are known as wintergreens because of their cold-hardy qualities. Even in the midst of winter the leaves remain green. Bog wintergreen (Pyrola asarifolia) is a native perennial that grows in moist coniferous and deciduous forests from low elevations to timberline throughout most of North America, except the South and a few Plains States.
A member of the Heath Family, this evergreen plant derives from a long, branched rhizome. The rounded, leathery leaves grow in a basal cluster. Bog wintergreen leaves have a smooth margin or are slightly toothed, have a long petiole (leaf stalk) and are dark green and shiny.
The bog wintergreen inflorescence is an elongated raceme atop an erect, leafless stalk. The bell-shaped, waxy, nodding flowers are pale pink to dark red. There are five petals, ten stamens with red anthers and an long style curved off to one side.
The bog wintergreen fruit is a five-chambered spherical capsule containing numerous, minute yellowish seeds.
Bog wintergreen requires a balance of fungi and other soil constituents, found in humus rich, acidic soils free of human encroachment, to survive. Bog wintergreen does not thrive if removed from its natural environment.
The leaves of bog wintergreen are edible, but tough and bitter. Native Americans used various preparations of bog wintergreen for medicinal purposes including mouth and throat inflammations, urinary diseases, insect bites and astringents. Bog wintergreen also has styptic properties and was used to stop bleeding.
Other common names for P. asarifolia include pink wintergreen and liverleaf wintergreen. Pyrola, the genus name, is from Latin and means pear, referring to the leaf shape of some members of this genus. The species designation, asarifolia, translates as “leaves like wild ginger (Asarum)”.
These bog wintergreen specimens were growing along CA Highway 89 across from Hat Lake in Lassen Volcanic National Park.