Native Plant Profile:

Spotted Wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata)

By Wendy Diaz EMGV

Foreground: Spotted Wintergreen in bloom near base of Beech Tree. All photos taken on June 4, 2021 by Wendy Diaz unless otherwise stated.

In North Carolina, one of the advantages of my removal of invasive ground cover mechanically rather than chemically and changing my gardening habits – such as no longer mulching with three inches of pine straw – is that remarkable tiny native plants start to appear beneath my beech tree (Fagus sylvatica) like the Spotted Wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata) without any more intervention from me. (I wrote about another diminutive native plant beneath my beech tree, the Cranefly Orchid (Tipularia discolor), in the blog post of July 30, 2020 [1]). 


I feel fortunate that I have a few plants of this smallest of evergreen shrubs peeking above the dead leaves and pine needles in my woodland garden; although it is fairly common in North Carolina, it is rare, if not endangered, in its northern range near my home town in Ontario and also in Maine[2]. It has become so rare in its most northern range of Canada that there is a recovery program in Ontario[3],[4].

Spotted Wintergreen in full bloom just a few inches high above the leaf litter.

Growing Conditions

Spotted Wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata) is a native, evergreen rhizomatous wildflower or dwarf shrub found on the shaded forest floor. It only reaches a height of 3 to 5 inches tall which makes it a good ground cover if you can get it to spread[5]; it is slow growing. The habit form of the Spotted Wintergreen is classified as a sub-shrub and is considered in some literature as a small broadleaf evergreen shrub[6]. The woody plant is easily found in the forests of the Piedmont due to the conspicuous white mid-rib of the dark blueish-green leaves which contrast with the light brown of the surrounding leaf litter. The genus name is a combination of the Greek word for winter (cheima) and to love (philein). Other common names include Striped Wintergreen, Striped Prince’s Pine, Rheumatism Root[7] and Spotted pipsissewa[8].  Pipsissewa comes from the Cree Indian word pipsisikweu which means ‘break into small pieces’ because mistakenly, they believed that a substance in its leaves would ‘break-up’ kidney stones. Native Americans also used to make tea from the leaves to treat rheumatism and stomach maladies. The foliage is avoided by deer. It has a wide range in Eastern North America from Quebec to Florida and as far south as Central America. It prefers medium to dry forest floors with medium shade and acidic soils. More precisely, it requires dappled sunlight (shade through the canopy all day) or deep shade (less than 2 hours to no direct sunlight) and sandy soils on the dry side with good drainage[9]. It has a stoloniferous root system and spreads by underground stems or rhizomes. The plant does not do well if its roots are disturbed. It reproduces both vegetatively and by seed reproduction following light wildfires.

Conspicuous white mid-rib of the dark blueish-green leaves of the Spotted Wintergreen plant.


The evergreen leaves are a deep blue-green color with a white stripe along the central vein of the leaf with a waxy or leathery appearance. As the larger leaves widen, the white stripe spreads laterally to give a mottled appearance giving it its most distinguishing characteristic. Dentate leaf margins have shallow widely-spaced teeth. The narrow ovate-shaped leaves have an opposite and whorled arrangement and are about 1 to 3 inches in length and less than an inch in width. The leaves are attached to a semi-woody stout reddish-brown stem.

Pronounced white midrib of whorl of bluish-green leathery leaves of the Spotted Wintergreen along with stem with dual buds.


In late May to early June in the Piedmont of North Carolina, small fragrant, pretty white flowers appear from spherical white buds. The flowers are bell shape and open downward or hang (nodding) from the top of long reddish-brown stalk that grows up from the leaf whorl. Each stalk is topped by 2 to 5 curving stems from which clusters of 2 to 5 flowers emerge; looking much like an old fashioned lamp post.

Top Photo: Spotted Wintergreen buds and stalk look like tiny lamposts. Middle Photo: Partially opened blossom, fully opened blossom and missing blossom on one reddish stalk emerging from the whorl of waxy bluish-green leaves. Bottom Photo: Closeup of blossoms and green pistil (early seed pod). Photo taken by Wendy Diaz at Raven Rock State Park on June 7 2015.

Each flower of ½ to ¾ inch diameter has 5 waxy white petals that have small scattered brown spots, 5 light green sepals and ten yellowish or tan colored stamens and a green pistil. After pollination the flower turns upward so that the resultant small (less than an inch in length and 1/3 inch wide) seed capsule that forms is erect and eventually matures to a dark brown color. The dried capsule splits and releases tiny seeds

I was out of town this year when a few buds blossomed on the plants beneath the beech tree. I suspect there wasn’t a bigger show this year than there was in 2021 because we had a very wet winter and spring and they prefer drier soils or I am disturbing their sensitive roots when I often walk over to their colony to admire them.

Same Spotted Wintergreen plants in other photographs above but are
smaller and without blooms this year. Photo taken on May 17, 2023.











Weekend Getaway to find the Native Silky Camelia (Stewartia malacodendron) in Bloom 

By Wendy Diaz EMGV

Last May, I planned a short weekend trip with my husband to try and find the native Silky Camelia (Stewartia malacodendron) in bloom at the Ev-Henwood Nature Preserve[1] (pronounced Heaven wood) in Brunswick County, near the coast of North Carolina. The Silky Camelia is the signature plant of this 175-acre nature preserve which is an example of Bottomland Hardwood Forest and Wetland Habitats of the Coastal Plain. Fifteen trails cross these diverse habitats. Our home base was a Bed and Breakfast in Southport, North Carolina even though Wilmington was probably closer; Southport is a quaint town with lots of restaurants and on the same side of the river as the preserve. I first heard of this native gem during a virtual lecture on NC Coastal Ecology by Amy Mead (Area Natural Resources Agent) on November 5, 2021 (part of the Carolina Backyard Naturalist Program hosted by N.C. Cooperative Extension Agents Matt Jones and Sam Marshal).

Photograph of flowering Silky Camelia at the Ev-Henrood Nature Preserve in bloom on May 14, 2022. Looking out at marsh near the Marina at Southport, NC. Photographs by Wendy Diaz, May 2022.

The exact timing of the peak bloom depends on several factors mainly the weather (give or take one week), amount of sun exposure and latitude. Generally, they flower in mid-Spring, around Mother’s Day, along the south coast and late Spring farther north-my friend saw the blossoms on a kayak trip at Merchant’s Mill Pond on May 26, 2022.

Silky camelia in bloom on May 26, 2022 near Merchant’s Mill Pond, NC. Photo courtesy of Wanet Sparks.

We picked a very ‘wet weekend’ and found one Silky Camelia bush after climbing over fallen trees (some trail junctions are not well marked) on May 14, 2022 on Stewartia Loop of the David Sieren Learning Trail at Ev-Henwood. A powerful thunderstorm the night before, jettisoned a lot of blossoms to the forest floor unfortunately but nevertheless I was delighted to see many intact and beautiful white-blossoms delicately adorned with rain drops and round perfect spherical buds still on this spreading shrub. This weekend turned to be, despite the weather, another successful botanical trek to see North Carolina’s outstanding floral display! (I wrote about a similar weekend trip to the mountains in 2021 to see the rhododendrons[2]). After, I took a few photographs my husband was anxious to head back to the car as dark clouds rolled in. On the way out of the Preserve, we noticed another shrub with abundant blossoms near the entrance as well.

Top: Silky camelia blossom Middle: fallen Silky Camelia blossoms on forest floor, newly opened blossom, blossoms Bottom: Buds on Silky Camelia branches and single round bud of Silky Camelia

History of the Ev-Henwood Nature Preserve

The Ev-Henwood Preserve is a former farm along Town Creek, a tributary to the Cape Fear River, in rural Brunswick County which was acquired from the former owner, Mr. Troy Henry by the University of North Carolina-Wilmington in 1991. In 2005, 64 acres was placed under a conservation agreement with Coastal Land Trust in partnership with UNCW[3]. Mr. Henry named the Preserve after combining his maternal (Evans) and paternal (Henry) family names. The land was in his family almost continuously from the 1790’s. It was also used for logging of pine forests (for lumber and shingles) and crops of corn, peas, beans, sweet potatoes, peanuts, cotton, pears, grapes, hay and soybeans. Mistletoe and holly branches were clipped and shipped to New York at Christmas time during the depression. By 1850 the family was a part of the navel stores industry and most of the long-leaf pines were cut to tap the raw pine sap (soft turpentine) and distributed to distilleries nearby. At the end of the Dogwood Trail there is an area of raised land that is the remains of the tar kiln used to extract turpentine. 


The Silky Camelia or Stewartia (Stewartia malacodendron) is a rarely seen native plant which occurs only in ten states in the southeast, including North Carolina. The plant is listed as ‘imperiled’ in the State of Georgia with only nine confirmed sightings since 2000[4]. The showy saucer-shaped flowers are about 3 inches in diameter. The flower’s five white petals have crimped edges and are occasionally streaked with purple. In the center of the flower are 50 to 100 purple stamens with blue anthers. The genus is in honor of John Stuart (1713 -1792), a 16th century Scottish botanist. Due to a transcription error the original name was spelled Stewartia and in the 19th century was spelled Stuartia for a time but the original spelling is now accepted. The species name malacodendron means “soft tree” in Greek and refers to the silky hairs of the underside of the leaves. The young twigs of this shrub also have silky hairs. It is related to the tea family and other camelias and is a small under-story woodland species. The deciduous shrub or small tree is multi-stemmed and spreads horizontally from about 15 to 25 feet wide with a height reaching 10 to 18 feet. It prefers partial shade (only 2 to 6 hours of direct sunlight) to deep shade (no direct sunlight) in sandy acidic to neutral soil with high organic matter and good drainage conditions. The smooth bark is burgundy or reddish-brown colored and exfoliates into strips. The leaves are dark green, elliptical shape (2 to 4 inches long) and alternate with silky hairs underneath. In the fall the leaves turn yellow. The flowers give way to oval-shaped green fruit about an inch in diameter in the fall. The woody capsule contains 1 to 4 seeds.

Top: Cinnamon-colored stem and tiny hairs on young stems and underneath/edge of leaves. Middle: Large white saucer-shaped blossoms with crimped edges of Silky Camelia, purplish to redish stamens in center of blossom. Middle: spreading habit of Silky Camelia shrub, Silky camelia blossoms and fruits formering on stems.

There is more to than the Silky Camelia to see along the trails of Ev-Henwood and other plants that we saw were lichens covering the ground, large ferns and many wildflowers. There were several small Sparkleberry (vaccinium arboretum) shrubs in full bloom along with skinks, snakes and turtles. The largest bald cypress tree (Taxodioum distichum) in the preserve (named Old Gus by Mr. Henry) with a 17.6 foot circumference and 5.5 diameter can be seen along the Beechwood Trail. This preserve is also listed on the NC Birding Trail and you may see some of North Carolina’s more colorful songbirds along the trails such as the Prothonotary Warbler, Swainson’s Warbler, Summer Tanager, Blue Grosbeak and Indigo Bunting. Other birds have been identified here such as the Bobwhite Quail, Barred Owls, Pileated Woodpeckers, Cooper’s Hawks, Great Blue Herons and Belted Kingfishers. 

Old farm pond on the way to Beechnut Trail.

Top: Lichen growing on the forest floor, large fern Middle top: Sparkleberry (vaccinium arboretum) bush in full bloom, close-up of sparkle berry flowers, hoary skullcap (Scutellaria). Middle bottom: Blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium), Bald Cypress (Taxodioum distichum) ‘Old Gus’ Bottom: Snake and skink on the trails.

For a rewarding experience during mid-May, I urge you to go for a hike at the Ev-Henwood Preserve and enjoy the beautiful Silky Camelia blossoms along with the other abundant natural features it offers. If you have the time and stay overnight then I would recommend the charming town of Southport. I hope your weekend will be drier than ours.

Plan your own adventure at the Ev-Henwood Nature Preserve 6150 Rock Creek Road, NE Leland, NC 28451 

Driving Directions: 

Ev-Henwood Nature Preserve is about 10 miles south of Wilmington, North Carolina. To reach the preserve from route U.S. 17, follow Old Town Creek Road to its intersection with Town Creek Road, turn right and go about three blocks to Rock Creek Road. The Preserve is at 6150 Rock Creek Road.

Trail map:

Each trail takes about 2 hours and a 33-page manual is available for download on this website.