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Wisconsin Plant of the Week

Mitchella repens L. 

Rubiaceae (Bedstraw Family)

Common Name:

partridge-berry

11/13/2000

Partridge-berry is a native perennial that grows in low mats up to 10 cm tall.  Itís found in deciduous, dry to mesic woodlands where the soil is acidic, under cedar, hemlock and pine and on hummocks of wind thrown trees in swamp forests.

The evergreen leaves are opposite, rounded and 1 to 2 cm across with a short stalk.  The dark green shiny leaf surface contrasts with white veins.  Stems root at nodes where they touch the ground and if undisturbed can spread into mats several meters across.

Small, white, fragrant flowers bloom from May to July. The flowers form in pairs on a common stalk at the end of trailing vines. The corolla is funnel-shaped with usually 4 spreading lobes that are fringed on the inside surface.

Partridge-berry flowers, like primroses and purple loosestrife, are heterostylous -- all flowers on the same plant have either long styles and short stamens or vice versa.  Since pollen is more easily transferred between male and female flower parts at the same height, this feature favors cross pollination among different plants in the same area.

A bright red berry forms as the ovaries of the twin flowers fuse.  In spite of the common name the berries arenít a choice wildlife food and they often persist until the following summer hidden beneath the leaves. 

  • Origin of the name: Mitchella, for Elisha Mitchell, botanist; repens, L. repere, to creep
  • Range:  N.S. to Ont. and MN, s to FL, TX
  • WI Range:  Statewide, less common in the south
  • Common associates: Red and sugar maples, wintergreen, witch hazel, white cedar
  • Wetland Indicator Status: FACU+
  • Coefficient of Conservatism: C = 10 (S&W), C = 5 (MI)
     
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