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Maine Wildflowers: Trailing Arbutus (Mayflowers)

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Trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens L.) also known as Mayflowers appear in early spring, typically during the month of May here in Maine. These tiny flowers range in color from white to pink and can be found underneath pine trees in shaded areas. The plants creep along the soil and root at intervals creating a mass of evergreen leaves that are often hidden under leaf litter.

Foliage is oval and leathery. These flowers are reported to have earned their name as the Mayflower because they were the first flowers the Mayflower Pilgrims observed after their first cold winter in New England, says the Lady Johnson Wildflower Center.

These woodland wildflowers do not transplant well, but you can buy Mayflowers from American Meadows. They are labeled as hardy in USDA plant hardiness zones 3 through 7. According to the USDA plant database, trailing arbutus’ natural habitat covers the entire east coast from Canada to Florida.

While some report that Mayflowers require sandy acidic soil, American Meadows says they are tolerant of sandy, loamy and acidic soil. If you wish to add mayflowers to your woodland garden, gathering soil from a location where they are known to thrive is advised.

These plants have always held a special place in my heart, as they were my mother’s favorite. Each year, she set out in hopes of finding these delightfully fragrant flowers and recalled the days of her youth when they were plentiful. We never located them and I have never seen them in the wild.

Someday I hope to discover their hiding place and offer up a bouquet in memory of my mother.

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