Creeping snowberry (Gaultheria hispidula) is a native species that is known by various other common names. These include moxie plum, creeping pearlberry, and maidenhair berry.
This species can be found in Washington, Idaho, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, and West Virginia and the entire Northeast. Generally, it is considered to be best suited to zones four through seven.
In the wild, creeping snowberry occurs in bogs, moist woods—especially coniferous ones—and knolls.
There are several related species in this genus. Salal (Gaultheria shallon) is found in a few western states, including California, Oregon, Washington, and Alaska. Wintergreen, which will be covered in a separate article, is one of the best known and widely distributed species in this group.
Description of Creeping Snowberry
The Latin name refers to the rough, hairy plant. This tends to be creeping, trailing, or mat forming evergreen. Low growing, it is only one to two inches tall with trailing stems. Creeping snowberry can be nearly a foot across.
The small, firm, one-fourth inch long foliage is alternate. Borne on short leaf stalks, this resembles thyme foliage. It is pale greenish-yellow with bristly undersides.
This species can be easily identified when compared to wintergreen or checkerberry by several characteristics. First, this native bears much smaller leaves than wintergreen. In addition, creeping snowberry also offers smaller blooms as well. Finally, the fruits are an easy way to tell the two apart. Those of creeping snowberry will be white, while wintergreen bears red berries.
The white flowers are less than 1/6th inch long. They typically appear from April to June, depending on the locations. Usually solitary and axillary, these emerge on short, nodding peduncles.
Creeping snowberry is named for the berries, which are ¼ to 1/3 inch across. They ripen to bright white from late fall to winter. About the size of an average pea, these are held above the foliage. These aromatic fruits are juicy and slightly acid.
Growing Creeping Snowberry
For the most part, creeping snowberry is somewhat harder to grow than the wintergreen.
Preferring a cool climate, this native ground cover is intolerant of hot summers. When growing this species, provide it with a moist, rich, acid soil and full to partial shade for best results. The slow growing plant is grown as a ground cover as well as in woodland gardens and rock gardens.