trailing arbutus, Mayflower, or ground laurel, one of the best-loved American wildflowers, said by Whittier to have been the first blossom seen on these shores by the Pilgrims (introduction to "The Mayflowers"). The plant blooms in early spring; its creeping stems bear clusters of sweetly fragrant pink or white flowers that are sometimes hidden by the hairy evergreen leaves. The leaves were once used in making a diuretic tea and were also said to be astringent and tonic. Roots of the trailing arbutus live in a partnership arrangement (mycorrhiza) with a fungus (see symbiosis). The plant is difficult to cultivate, and its existence is endangered by the zeal of flower pickers. In its native habitat, trailing arbutus seems to prefer the acid soil of pinewoods of the eastern part of North America. It is the provincial flower of Nova Scotia and the state flower of Massachusetts, where a law protects the plant. The trailing arbutus ( Epigaea repens ) should not be confused with Arbutus, a related genus (including the madroño) also of the heath family. The names Mayflower and laurel are also used for other plants. Trailing arbutus is classified in the division Magnoliophyta, class Magnoliopsida, order Ericales, family Ericaceae.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.