Cabin Branch Pyrite Mine trail, Prince William Forest Park, Prince William County, VA 24 February 2013
Partridgeberry (Mitchella repens) photo: Partridgeberry_©DaveSpier_D033875iN
In the fall, it's the small, red berries that first catch your attention. They're edible, but dry, seedy and tasteless, so leave them for the grouse to eat. I've never been fortunate enough to see a grouse [partridge] actually eating these fruits, but apparently that's how it got its name, Partridgeberry (Mitchella repens). The plant's creeping stems, growing close to the ground, are lined with opposite pairs of rounded or slightly heart-shaped leaves, often sporting a light mid-rib [vein] down the center of each leaf. The leaves are small, less than an inch long and dark green year round. In early summer, many of the trailing stems terminate in a forked pair of white or pink trumpet-shaped flowers, each with four or five petals. These turn into the scarlet berries (actually Siamese-twin berries) of fall.
Mitchella repens, or partridge berry, or Squaw Vine, is the best known plant in the genus Mitchella. It is a creeping prostrate herbaceous woody shrub, occurring in North America and Japan, and belonging to the madder family (Rubiaceae).