Appalachia Wildflowers & Trees Of Appalachia

Gravel Weed – Trailing Arbutus

Gravelweed trailing arbutus

gravelweed noun The trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens). Same as Easter flower 1.
1943 Stupka Through the Year 274 However, on making my way back to the valley, the unexpected discovery of the first trailing arbutus flowers of the year brought ample reward. For me these white and pinkish waxy blooms, as delightful in their fragrance as they are humble in their growth (“gravelweed,” the mountain people call the plant), always serve to mark a significant period in the chronicle of the year.

~Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English

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Trailing arbutus or gravel weed

 

Trailing Arbutus is a wildflower that grows throughout the eastern part of North America. Since it grows so closely to the ground it can be difficult to see. In the spring of the year, the easiest way to find it is to follow your nose. The little wildflower may only grow to an inch or 2 above ground, but it’s fragrance fills my entire yard.

The flowers are a combination of white and pink, the leaves are green, brown, and leathery feeling.

I’ve read Trailing Arbutus can be used as a medicinal plant to aide in symptoms associated with the urinary tract and kidneys. I’ve never heard it called gravelweed have you?

Tipper

 

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18 Comments

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    April 29, 2017 at 9:20 am

    Trailing Arbutus grew wild at Needmore on the north sides of damp rock cliffs. I have transplanted some to a North Slope near my home in Bryson City but it doesn’t thrive like it did on the damp cliffs from whence it came.

  • Reply
    Rev. Rose Marie "RB" Redmond
    May 12, 2016 at 8:40 pm

    I don’t think I’ve every seen this. Would love to though since it has a nice fragrance.
    God bless.
    RB
    <><

  • Reply
    Pam Danner
    May 12, 2016 at 12:24 pm

    This is so pretty and delicate looking! I like the name trailing arbutus better than gravel weed! I remember watching The Waltons and Grandpa Walton was always making reference to the trailing arbutus.
    Pam
    scrap-n-sewgranny.blogspot.com

  • Reply
    Rooney Floyd
    May 12, 2016 at 12:20 pm

    Mrs. Campbell recorded arbutus in her journal throughout the four year survey she and John made of the “Southern Appalachian Highlands”, about 1908-1912. She called it one of her favorite wildflowers with its beautiful little flowers and delightful fragrance. She did not mention Gravel Weed. I favor Sheryl’s explanation of “gravel” as kidney stones.

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    May 12, 2016 at 12:02 pm

    Tipper,
    I always wondered what Trailing Arbutus was. Maybe I’ve seen it before, but it looks like Tea-berry to me.
    Today is mama’s birthday, she’d be 103 and I still think of her almost
    every day. Also it is Donna Lynn’s birthday, our Radio Gal. I think she said she was 52 today…Ken

  • Reply
    Mrs. K
    May 12, 2016 at 11:04 am

    A friend who is an herbalist, years ago, taught me about gravel weed to be used for urinary and kidney issues, especially breaking up kidney stones. It is also known as Joe Pie weed, Queen of the Meadow, Gravel root, Kidney root (Eupatorium purpureum), it has a different Latin name so it is not the same as the one you discuss. The plant you refer to – Epigaea repens – AKA Mayflower, gravel plant, is also good for urinary and bladder issues, especially, according to Botanical.com, when there is pus and/or blood in the urine. It is Interesting to look into. And all of this is likely more than anyone wanted to know, LOL.

  • Reply
    John Faircloth
    May 12, 2016 at 10:31 am

    In the mountains, the beauty, grand or humble, just keeps going… and blessing.

  • Reply
    anita griffith
    May 12, 2016 at 9:43 am

    I had a great aunt who would come down from Ohio to her ole home place in Eastern KY. and gather it for kidney medicine.Don’t remember what she called it. It still grows on the ole family farm among the huckleberries and serviceberry trees,which we always called sarvis. I really love your site Tipper.It’s refreshing in this age of homogenized but not pasteurized language, LG

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    May 12, 2016 at 9:07 am

    On our farm at Needmore there was a cliff approximately 300 yards below our house which was covered by Trailing Arbutus, I’ve transplanted some of it to my present home just out of Bryson City, this and my Trilliums which I have transplanted from the farm also keep me grounded with my old homeplace. I have never heard Arbutus called Gravel Weed either.

  • Reply
    Don Casada
    May 12, 2016 at 8:45 am

    I’ve never heard trailing arbutus called either gravelweed or mayflower. I’ve got photos taken of it in bloom in the Smokies from late February to early April. Looking at the locations that go with that time span, the elevations ranged from 1700 to 3100 feet. As I think about it, I can’t recall seeing it at above around 3500 feet. I’m not saying it doesn’t grow there – just that I couldn’t point you to a location.
    From my observations, trailing arbutus seems to be, like squaw root, much more likely to grow along trails than off trail. It likes a well-drained soil, such as that on the steep upper bank of where a trail has been cut on the side of a ridge. Pine needles are in probably half of the photos I’ve taken of it.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    May 12, 2016 at 8:22 am

    Tipper,
    I love the Trailing Arbutus…and nope, I have never heard it called gravel weed!
    I have always heard that where you see it growing and blooming and smell its sweet fragrance, that is where the Spring Indian maiden has stepped and walked through the woodland.
    I made a mistake (or not) of telling my young boys about the folklore of the Trailing Arbutus. When we hiked back in the woods. I was trying to teach them about some names of wildflowers on our place. Ever so often that following Summer and Fall they would call for me or come inside and swear they heard the Indian walking In the woods. More explanations had to follow! Now a days in the Spring, when I am out early in the morning all by myself and I hear a rustling steps back in the woods, I think of the Trailing Arbutus Indian maiden and grin….thinking also of the boys when they were still small and living here!
    Thanks Tipper,
    PS…Another common favorite and found in about any dry woodland is The Little Brown Jug or Arrow Leaf Ginger…I wish I could bottle the fragrance…I hear some have done so? Pull the leaf litter back to find and pick the “little brown jugs”…I carried many a handful to my playhouse when I was a child…memories, memories! We also as children called this the “root beer leaf”!

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    May 12, 2016 at 8:14 am

    I know it as gravel weed, used to help remove the ‘gravel’ or stones.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    May 12, 2016 at 8:14 am

    I know it as gravel weed, used to help remove the ‘gravel’ or stones.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    May 12, 2016 at 8:14 am

    I know it as gravel weed, used to help remove the ‘gravel’ or stones.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    May 12, 2016 at 8:14 am

    I know it as gravel weed, used to help remove the ‘gravel’ or stones.

  • Reply
    Ethelene Dyer Jones
    May 12, 2016 at 8:05 am

    Trailing arbutus, mayflower, gravelweed–by whatever name we know the gentle, humble, fragrant blossoms close to the ground, we see beauty and smell sweet aromas above decayed leaves of the past season and the opening promise of a new season.

  • Reply
    Tipper
    May 12, 2016 at 6:27 am

    Quinn-I jumped over and looked at the photo-wow the leaves on the one you show are so smooth! The little plant blooms earlier here too, B.Ruth mentioned it in a comment a few weeks ago and gave me the idea to post about it : )

  • Reply
    Quinn
    May 12, 2016 at 4:53 am

    Never heard it called gravelweed. Here it’s “mayflower” and the official flower of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. But I wonder if we may have slightly different varieties, as the leaves of yours look more textured than the ones I see here. Maybe together we’ll make a botanical discovery, Tipper!
    Another thing: it bloomed here back in April, and we’re usually way behind you with blooming. Here are some pictures –
    comptonia.blogspot.com/2016/04/every-day-is-earth-day.html

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