poetry and prose about place

Trailing Arbutus (Epigaea repens L. var glabrifolia)

with 9 comments

One of the common flowers of early spring is the Mayflower (Epigaea repens L. var. glabrifolia), or Trailing Arbutus, also called Epigee rampante in French.  It belongs to the heath or heather family (Ericaceae).   It grows in open woods, or pastures, and along hillsides, in acidic soil.

Mayflower in bloom, photo taken in 1978 in Nova Scotia

The Mayflower is part of what Roland and Smith (The Flora of Nova Scotia, The Nova Scotia Museum, 1969) called the ‘Canadian Element’, woodland plants native to Northeastern North America and including common plants of the coniferous woods:  Maianthemum canadense Desf. (Wild Lily-of-the- Valley), Mitchella repens L. (Partridge-berry), Gaultheria procumbens L. (Wintergreen) and Trientalis borealis Raf. (Star-flower), among others.  When I worked on my M. Sc. thesis project, years ago, these were in the community of plants I encountered in the woods I was studying, and they are still my favorite plants.

two members of the ‘Canadian Element’ community – leaves of Wild Lily-of-the-Valley (left) and Wintergreen (right)

The name epigaea means ‘on the earth’, and perfectly describes the way the Mayflower grows.  The specific name is from the Latin repens meaning ‘creeping’.  The plant spreads across the ground, its oval, leathery leaves lying flat and overlapping.  The leaves persist all winter and sometimes look a little weather-worn.  The variety we have is glabrous on the lower leaf surface, meaning without hairs. The leaves grow on hairy, woody twigs.

leaves of Mayflower in the Grey Woods, April 2012

The flowers grow in clusters tucked beneath the leaves.  They are creamy white, and are in the form of a short tube ending in five flaring lobes.  They bloom mid-April to mid-May.  The flowers along our woods have just completed their blooming. For a nostalgic look at the tradition of picking Mayflowers in spring, have a look at

A delight of spring is to manoeuvre close to the ground so you can smell the Epigaea flowers.  The perfume is very sweet, gently stirring.  The only edible part of the plant is the flower and it tastes as sweet and fragrant as it smells.  It is a shame to eat such a delicate creature as a Mayflower, but once a year I allow myself the privilege, just one tiny bloom (always be absolutely certain of the identification before you eat any plant in the wild).  The plant is protected in some areas since it rarely sets seed and is almost impossible to transplant.

The Mayflower is the floral emblem of Nova Scotia and Massachusetts.



Trailing Arbutus

(Epigaea repens L.)


on the slope, new leaves

          Trientalis, Gaultheria

Star-flower, Wintergreen,

vines of Partridge-berry creep,

          Maianthemum unfurls


beneath the din, a melody

weeps Epigaea, evergreen

pressed to the hillside

leather armour, thickened leaves

weather-beaten, worn


waxy bloom resists

subtle shadow


unrelenting rain




1. never eat any plant if you are not absolutely certain of the identification;
2. never eat any plant if you have personal sensitivities, including allergies, to certain plants or their derivatives;
3. never eat any plant unless you have checked several sources to verify the edibility of the plant.

©  Jane Tims   2012

9 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Nothing needs to be said…we listen/watch and learn. Many thanks.



    April 30, 2012 at 6:36 pm

  2. Congratulations Jane.! I think today is your last day at work,,,,I honestly did read your work today and of course I enjoyed it immensely,,but all I can think of is “retirement”. Can you tell us just how you feel leaving your job of 33 yrs.? You will be missed I am sure. Enjoy your new venture and enjoy your hubbie,, take the time for each other. And oh,,,our mayflowers are not out yet ,,,I have never tasted one but I think I will this year thanks to you. I must read your Friday’s post while I have the time,,didn’t take the time on Friday. “Keep Smiling my friend” and never forget to “Love One another.” From me,,patsi.



    April 30, 2012 at 12:23 pm

    • Hi Patsi. Yes, today is my first day of ‘retirement’. I am making it my first day of work on my poetry manuscript. It feels like a Saturday. It will likely take a couple of weeks to get the idea in my brain. Enjoy your taste of Mayflower, but only one taste! Let me know what you think! Jane


      jane tims

      May 1, 2012 at 7:11 am

  3. As always, I love your drawing! Lily-of-the-Valley was my mother’s favorite flower. It’s pretty hard to find in the woods, but it’s a sweet reminder when I do…


    Barbara Rodgers

    April 30, 2012 at 10:52 am

    • Hi Barbara. The Wild Lily-of-the-Valley is a really tiny version of the garden variety. I’ll be doing a post on it soon and I’ll dedicate it to your Mom. Jane


      jane tims

      May 1, 2012 at 7:07 am

      • That’s so sweet and thoughtful of you, Jane!


        Barbara Rodgers

        May 1, 2012 at 11:15 am

      • Hi. I took a photo of the Wild Lily-of-the-Valley leaves unfurling this morning. Now to wait until they flower, draw a drawing, write a poem. Jane


        jane tims

        May 1, 2012 at 11:49 am

      • Hi Barbara. My post on Wild Lily-of-the-Valley, dedicated to your mom, went up this morning. I wish my photo of the flower could have been better but I’ll substiutute a better one as time goes on. Jane


        jane tims

        May 25, 2012 at 6:42 am

I'd love to hear what you think...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: