Trailing arbutus, often the first spring flower to appear in our woods, is blooming late this year! I actually found a bloom on Christmas Day a few years ago, but February flowers are not uncommon. This year it’s blooming alongside the Celandine poppy, southern red trillium, dwarf larkspur, phlox, and geraniums – the main phalanx of spring wildflowers. And I wonder why!
Trailing arbutus Epigaea repens, is a creeping woody vine. Epigaea means “upon the ground,” and repens means “lying” Lying upon the ground it is — and it’s a shy one! You often have to lift the leathery leaves to see the clump of delicate-pink flowers right against the forest floor. Bending down to get a closer look is well worth the effort — the flowers have a sweet fragrance. And they are edible, although it seems a waste to eat these beautiful things!
The plant is a member of the Heath family, and relatives include rhododendron, mountain laurel, azaleas, blueberries, and sourwood. Its family ties are strong – look for it where you find mountain laurel, especially.
It is said that this was the first bloom that the Pilgrims saw after their first long, cold winter in North America. They named it Mayflower, and today it is the state flower of Massachusetts, as well as the provincial flower of Nova Scotia. Trailing arbutus, we’re thrilled that you’ve finally arrived, just in time for May Day!