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Epigaea repens (Trailing arbutus)
Orr, Christie

Epigaea repens

Epigaea repens L.

Trailing Arbutus, Mayflower, Plymouth Mayflower

Ericaceae (Heath Family)

Synonym(s): Epigaea repens var. glabrifolia

USDA Symbol: EPRE2

USDA Native Status: L48 (N), CAN (N), SPM (N)

Trailing-arbutus becomes a creeping mat, commonly only 4-6 in. high. The broad, oval, leathery leaves are aromatic and evergreen. A trailing, evergreen plant with sweet-scented pink or white flowers in terminal and axillary clusters on hairy stems. Trumpet-shaped, white to pale pink flowers, also aromatic, are followed by a whitish berry, resembling a raspberry in appearance.

For this favorite wildflower with an exquisite fragrance, one must search among the fallen leaves in early spring. It favors exposed sites where the plants are not smothered by leaf litter. In areas with heavy leaf litter, the plant can be located when flowering by sniffing for it on hands and knees. It appears to be sensitive to abrupt environmental disturbances, such as lumbering and grazing, which may account for its present scarcity. It is difficult to cultivate. Trailing Arbutus is sometimes referred to as "Plymouth Mayflower" in reference to the fact that it was the first flower to cheer the hearts of the Pilgrim Fathers after the rigors of their first New England winter.


From the Image Gallery

16 photo(s) available in the Image Gallery

Plant Characteristics

Duration: Perennial
Habit: Shrub
Leaf Retention: Evergreen
Leaf Complexity: Simple
Fruit Type: Capsule
Size Notes: Stems prostrate or creeping, up to about 20 inches long.

Bloom Information

Bloom Color: White , Pink
Bloom Time: Feb , Mar , Apr , May , Jun , Jul


USA: AL , CT , DC , DE , FL , GA , IL , IN , KY , MA , MD , ME , MI , MN , MS , NC , NH , NJ , NY , OH , PA , RI , SC , TN , VA , VT , WI , WV
Canada: NB , NL , NS , ON , PE , QC
Native Distribution: ME & s.e. NY to OH, s. to FL & MS
Native Habitat: Sandy to peaty woods or clearings

Growing Conditions

Light Requirement: Part Shade , Shade
Soil Moisture: Moist
Soil pH: Acidic (pH<6.8)
Soil Description: Well-drained, humus-rich, acid soils.
Conditions Comments: Trailing arbutus is very difficult to establish and perpetuate. It will not tolerate disturbance, is extremely susceptible to failure during drought or flood, and is slow-growing even in good conditions. A mycorrhizal association may be necessary for survival.


Conspicuous Flowers: yes
Fragrant Flowers: yes
Attracts: Butterflies
Larval Host: Hoary Elfin (Callophrys polia)

Butterflies and Moths of North America (BAMONA)

Hoary Elfin
(Callophrys polios)

Larval Host
Learn more at BAMONA


Seed Collection: The little green balls which replace the flowers, split in June to show brown seeds embedded in a white pulp. Collect quickly before birds and insect find them.
Commercially Avail: yes

Mr. Smarty Plants says

Groundcover to reduce erosion for shady area in New York
May 05, 2009
We live on a lake with gravelly and clay soils, lots of wind and little sun. I am looking for a native ground cover that will help reduce erosion over some of the steep slopes facing south (under shad...
view the full question and answer

Evergreen shrubs for Michigan
June 17, 2008
I'm seeking a small-medium, ornamental, fairly compact, evergreen shrub to complement my front yard woodland wildflower garden. I want a shrub that will flank both sides of my front porch steps. I wa...
view the full question and answer

From the National Organizations Directory

According to the species list provided by Affiliate Organizations, this plant is on display at the following locations:

Mt. Cuba Center - Hockessin, DE


Bibref 1186 - Field Guide to Moths of Eastern North America (2005) Covell, C.V., Jr.
Bibref 1185 - Field Guide to Western Butterflies (Peterson Field Guides) (1999) Opler, P.A. and A.B. Wright

Search More Titles in Bibliography

Web Reference

Webref 38 - Flora of North America (2019) Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis, MO & Harvard University Herbaria, Cambridge, MA.
Webref 23 - Southwest Environmental Information Network (2009) SEINet - Arizona Chapter

From the Archive

Wildflower Newsletter 1992 VOL. 9, NO.1 - Research Update, Creating Native Lawn with Sod, Director's Report, What Makes Pl...

Additional resources

USDA: Find Epigaea repens in USDA Plants
FNA: Find Epigaea repens in the Flora of North America (if available)
Google: Search Google for Epigaea repens


Record Modified: 2023-04-14
Research By: TWC Staff

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