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Botanical Name: Epigaea repens
Species: E. repens
Common Names: Mayflower or Trailing arbutus
Habitat: Epigaea repens is found from Newfoundland to Florida, west to Kentucky and the Northwest Territories. It is found in sandy soil in many parts of North America, in the shade of pines. Its natural home is under trees, and it will thrive in this country only in moist, sandy peat in shady places. It has long been known in cultivation here as an ornamental plant, having been introduced into Great Britain in 1736. Like the common Arbutus, or the Strawberry Tree and the Bearberry, it belongs to the order Ericacece, the family of the heaths.Slow growing, it prefers moist, acidic (humus-rich) soil, and shade. It is often part of the heath complex in an oak-heath forest.
Epigaea repens is a small evergreen creeping shrub, It grows but a few inches high, with a trailing, shrubby stalk, which puts out roots at the joints, and when in a proper soil and situation multiplies very fast. The evergreen leaves are stalked, broadly ovate, 1 to 1 1/2 inches long, rough and leathery, with entire, wavy margins and a short point at the apex. Branches, leaf-stalks and nerves of the leaves are very hairy. The flowers are produced at the end of the branches in dense clusters. They are white, with a reddish tinge and very fragrant, divided at the top into five acute segments, which spread open in the form of a star. The plant flowers in April and May, but rarely produces fruit in England. It is stated to be injurious to cattle when eaten by them.
The species flowers are pink, fading to nearly white, very fragrant, about .5 inches (1.3 cm) across when expanded, few or many in clusters at ends of branches. Calyx of five dry overlapping sepals; corolla salver-shaped, the slender, hairy tube spreading into five equal lobes; 10 stamens; one pistil with a column-like style and a five-lobed stigma. Stem: Spreading over the ground (Epigaea = on the earth); woody, the leafy twigs covered with rusty hairs. Leaves: Alternate, oval, rounded at the base, smooth above, more or less hairy below, evergreen, weather-worn, on short, rusty, hairy petioles.
Landscape Uses:Rock garden, Woodland garden. Requires an open lime-free humus-rich soil and shade from direct sunlight. Grows well in the shade of other calcifuge plants such as rhododendrons and also under pine trees. A very cold-hardy plant but it is often excited into premature growth by mild winter weather and is then subject to damage by frost. The flower buds require a period of chilling to about 2°c before they will open. The flowers are deliciously and strongly scented with a rich spicy perfume. There are some named varieties, selected for their ornamental value. A difficult plant to grow in cultivation and very hard to transplant successfully. Another report says that although the genus is generally difficult to cultivate, this species is relatively easy to grow. Special Features:Attractive foliage, Fragrant flowers.
Seed – best sown as soon as it is ripe in a shady position in a cold frame. Another report says that the seed requires no pre-treatment and can be sown in late winter in a cold frame. Surface sow and place the pot in light shade, do not allow it to dry out. The seed usually germinates in 3 – 5 weeks. As soon as they are large enough to handle, pot up the seedlings into individual pots. Be very careful since they strongly resent root disturbance. Grow them on in light shade in the greenhouse and plant them out in their permanent positions in the late spring of their second years growth. Cuttings of half-ripe wood, July/August in a frame.Take the cutting with a part of the previous year’s growth. (This report is unclear as to whether it means a heel of older wood or just a small section of older wood) Plants self-layer and can be divided in the spring but this must be done with great care since they deeply resent root disturbance.
Edible Uses: Flowers – raw. Fragrant, with a spicy slightly acid flavour, they are eaten as a wayside nibble or are added to salads. Thirst quenching.
Astringent; Diuretic; Tonic.
Mayflower is rarely used medicinally, even in folk medicine, though it is a strong urinary antiseptic and is one of the most effective remedies for cystitis, urethritis, prostatitis, bladder stones and particularly acute catarrhal cystitis. The leaves are astringent, diuretic and tonic. An infusion is made from the dried leaves, or a tincture from the fresh leaves. A tea made from the leaves is used in the treatment of kidney disorders, stomach aches, bladder disorders etc. It is of special value when the urine contains blood or pus. Use with caution, the plant contains arbutin and, although this is an effective urinary disinfectant, it hydrolyzes to hydroquinone which is toxic. The leaves can be used fresh or can be harvested in the summer and dried for later use
Plants can be grown for ground cover, they should be spaced about 25cm apart each way and form a carpet of growth. This species is probably not very worthwhile for ground cover in Britain because of its difficulty to cultivate.
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