In the winter assortment of potted products, this small plant is distinguished by an abundance of rich red fruits, as if giving off part of their color to the tips of the leaves. It is by this time that its fruits ripen in nature. It is called recumbent (Gaultheria procumbens) and belongs to the Heather family (Ericaceae). This bright plant just asks for a New Year's decor, but few know that they are buying not only a beautiful, but also a useful plant, which, moreover, can live in our open field.
The haulteria recumbent, or American wintergreen, at home - in the mixed forests of eastern North America, stretches with creeping gray-brown smooth shoots among tall shrubs up to 40-45 cm in diameter and rises only 10-15 cm above the ground.This evergreen shrub has elliptical , slightly pointed leaves 1.5-4 cm long (sometimes ovoid), leathery, with a shiny dark green surface and a crenate edge. At low temperatures, the leaves acquire a beautiful crimson hue. The flowers are bisexual, white with a pinkish tinge, single, drooping, bell-shaped, with a 5-molded corolla, resembling the shape of the flower-cups of our wild-growing round-leaved and small pears, which also belong to heather. Flowers are arranged singly or in few-flowered inflorescences. They are willingly pollinated by insects, since the plant is a honey plant. Flowering lasts from July to September, then scarlet berries 0.5-1.5 cm in diameter develop, which often persist until next spring. All parts of the plant have a scent.
The people of the American continent often call it the Eastern Teaberry. The last name did not appear in vain, the indigenous population has long used the leaves of the bed for the preparation of pleasant to taste and medicinal teas, which were used to treat various pains - headaches, rheumatoid pains, sore throats, and chewed the leaves to facilitate breathing during hard work.
At the beginning of the 19th century, chemists discovered that the plant had properties similar to the natural salicylates of white willow (Salix alba), providing an anti-inflammatory effect and reducing swelling of joints and muscles. It was melyl salicylate.
During the American Revolution in the second half of the 18th century, haultrea leaves were used as a surrogate tea. To prepare this tea, the leaf was fermented in warm water to recover methyl salicylate and dried. There is even an opinion that the very word tea (tea) originally referred to it, before the spread of real tea. Until now, there are many other local names of the plant in common use, among them - Mountain tea (the area of haulteria rises in the mountains).
By the way, melilsalicylate (wintergreen oil) is a mixture of organic acids with alcohol, its specific smell is felt when rubbing the leaves of the bed. The ability to synthesize it is possessed only by representatives of the genera Wintergreen, Spirea, Black Birch, and this is the only type of haulteria.
The lowest content of essential oil is found in the young leaves of the haulteria, they are pleasant to chew. By the way, it is often used to flavor toothpastes. The essential oil is obtained by steam distillation, the leaves are harvested from spring to autumn and pre-soaked in water for 12-24 hours. The oil contains up to 98% methyl salicylate and is used in medicine as an external one for myalgia, neuralgia, rheumatism, sprains, skin inflammation and even cellulite. The contraindications are the same as for aspirin. In the food industry, it is used to flavor beer, liqueurs and other drinks, sweets, medicines and rinses. However, now it is more often replaced by a synthetic analogue. There is a version that this plant was one of those that prompted the invention of chewing gum, which is still used for flavoring.
As for the berries of the recumbent, you may come across conflicting information. Sometimes it is indicated that the berries are not edible to humans, but they are not poisonous either. In nature, in winter they are not disdained by American birds (another of the names is Partridge Berry), chipmunks, squirrels, mice, bears and foxes. And any American source confirms that the berries are edible, but their taste is described in different ways. Some compare it to mint, calling the plant Mint Berry, others point to a medical taste. Having tasted one berry from a purchased plant (there will be no harm from one, although the plants were probably processed with a mass of chemicals during the cultivation process), you will feel the familiar smell of germolene - an antiseptic substance, used in medicine, or a mixture of camphor and mint. And at the same time, make sure that you can't call this low-juicy and mealy, empty inside berry tasty in any way, although it asks in your mouth, strongly resembling a cranberry in appearance. Nevertheless, berries are suitable for making jams and pie fillings, and in America they are used to decorate cakes.
If you bought a plant for New Year's decor, then in a cool room with regular watering with cool water without drying the soil, it can be without visible changes for more than a month, only large berries will wrinkle a little. You will have time to admire both berries and foliage. Moreover, the plant is not at all demanding on light, it can stand in the back of the room for a long time without changing the anthocyanin color of the foliage.
If there is a goal of further preserving the plant, then it is better to provide the house with a cool content (up to + 120C) immediately after purchase and keep it until spring. At this temperature, watering should be more rare, without stagnant water in the pan. After that, it is best to keep it as a container plant, exposing it to the garden for the summer and returning it to similar conditions for the winter. The nest-shaped bush looks nice in a container. In the open field, this plant is still a problem for us.
Outdoor growing conditions
Lying haulteria belongs to the 4th zone of winter hardiness and can be grown in the Moscow region. Withstands winter frosts down to -350C, but is sensitive to spring frosts, and in severe frosts it freezes in winter as well. There is the Dart's Red Giant variety, which is distinguished by especially large berries. Often sold simply as large-fruited, without specifying the variety.
It is only necessary to plant a haulteria in the spring. And yet, not fruiting specimens purchased at the peak of sales in winter, but more discreet green ones from nurseries.
However, it is not so easy to create conditions for this plant. Rich humus peaty cool moist soils (acidic or slightly acidic, optimally with a pH of 5.0-6.0) and partial shade are preferred. The plant tolerates not too dense shade and short drought. But with sufficient soil moisture, it is advisable to choose a more illuminated place in the lacy shade of deciduous or evergreen plants in a protected place. This is more likely to get fruit.
Despite its slow growth (at home up to 3 cm, and in Moscow only 1 cm per year), it gets along with competitors. It does not tolerate only prolonged drought, too dry soils and the presence of lime. We bloom from mid-June for 20 days, then after a hot period again in late August-early September. The berries ripen in September-November and can remain until next summer.
The root system of the plant is a network of thin, almost filamentous roots located at a depth of only 2-3 cm in the upper humus layer, therefore mulching is highly indicated for the plant. Needless to say, neat weeding.
After flowering, the plant can be pruned if necessary. In the same period, they are fed with fertilizers for acid-loving (heather) plants.
If you managed to preserve the New Year's plant until spring, then planting it in the ground can lead to death next winter, since the plant is planted out of the room.
It is most reasonable to take berries from it in advance, remove the seeds and sow on the surface of slightly acidic soil or compost in a plastic container, without covering it up. After that, put in a refrigerator for 4-10 weeks for cold stratification at +5 degrees, and then germinate in the spring in a greenhouse at +20 degrees in the light. Seeds usually germinate slowly, over a period of 1 to 2 months. The soil should be kept moist, but avoid waterlogging and provide seedlings with good lighting and ventilation to prevent seedlings from lodging. From the black leg, once a week, pour with a solution of Fitosporin or a mixture of Alirin and Gamair. Seedlings with a height of 2.5-3 cm can be dived, grown in a greenhouse and left there for the winter. In the open field, young plants grow extremely slowly in the first 2-3 years and require protection for the winter with a dry oak or maple leaf or spruce branches.
Well-developed plants can be propagated by root suckers, layering, dividing the bush.
Another way of reproduction is to take semi-lignified cuttings 3-6 cm long after flowering and root in a greenhouse. Not all cuttings take root - less than half, so rooting stimulants should be used.
Read about rooting technology in our article Green cuttings of woody plants.