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And a Partridge in a .....

Mitchella repens
by Barry Glick
by Barry Glick


Barry Glick has been involved in the plant world since 1954, when at the young, impressionable age of 5, he witnessed Don Herbert (Mr. Wizard on TV) put a cutting of a plant in a glass of water only to sprout roots a few shows later. Barry replicated the experiment with his one of his mother's prized Coleus plants, and as he watched the roots grow, knew that he was hooked for life.

Barry owns Sunshine Farm & Gardens in West Virginia - Zone 5

December 9, 2012

Forgive me for borrowing a line from that little diddy that some wily Jesuit priests penned in the 16th century, but I couldn't think of a more clever way to introduce you to Mitchella repens, aka "Partridge Berry".

Mitchella repens has opposite, evergreen, glossy, oval to heart-shaped leaves, 1/2 inch across, with parallel veining in the midrib and carpets the ground with its 12" - 18" vines. The bright red berries are edible, but nowhere near as tasty as Gaultheria procumbens (Teaberry), and persist all winter unless the partridges, grouse, fox or other wildlife discover them.

Native to 35 states and 3 provinces of Canada east of the Mississippi - this extremely useful groundcover is rarely seen in the trade. I fail to see why, as it's very easy to propagate by rooting cuttings or from seed. In fact, it forms adventitious roots as it gently winds its way around the garden. It could never, by any stretch of the imagination, be considered aggressive or invasive.

And guess what else! I just happened to have a pot at eye level and discovered that the pink to pure white, tubular flowers that occur in pairs from June to July are really very fragrant. Here's a closeup of the flowers - and another at As I said, the flowers occur in pairs and after fertilization, the two flower ovaries fuse together, giving rise to a single red fruit. The two dimples on the fruit reveal its fused nature.

As strange as it may seem, the genus Mitchella is in the Rubiaceae (Madder) family, the same family as Coffee arabica. Yes, that's the same coffee we get at Starbucks!

Native American women often drank a tea made from the leaves of this plant as an aid in childbirth.

I use Mitchella repens as a native alternative to that nasty Vinca that I've been trying to rid myself of for over 30 years.

It seems to tolerate dry soils although in its natural habitats, it's usually found in rich, moist, acidic woods.

I can't say that Mitchella repens is "completely" deerproof, however, it does seem that Bambi is more fond of the berries than the foliage and frequently seems to beat the birds to the bounty, while not intentionally disturbing the plant.

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