The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, February 13, 2004


Biodiversity Corner Partridgeberry

photo by Kay Fairweather
Name: Mitchella repens — common names are Partridgeberry, Running-box, Two-eyed berry and Squaw-vine. It is a member of the Madder family. The genus name was given by Linnaeus in recognition of Dr. John Mitchell who provided him with valuable information on American flora. The species name, repens, refers to the trailing, creeping habit of the plant.

Where and when found: All year round along many of the paths in the Towle woods. I have patches of it in my back yard. It is very common. It likes moist, acidic soil and some shade and is native to woodland areas of eastern North America.

Distinguishing characteristics: The plant is evergreen with bright red berries that persist through to the following year so it is possible to spot it in winter among the dead leaves in the woods. The leaves are small, opposite, about half an inch long, roundish, and with light-colored veins. Tiny, fragrant, white, tubular flowers appear from May to July, in pairs. Both flowers in the pair must be fertilized to produce the single berry which has two "eyes," one from each of the flowers.

On the menu: The berries are eaten by raccoons, red fox, white-tailed deer and birds in the partridge family like ruffed grouse and northern bobwhite. In Newfoundland, people make jam from the berries.

Medicinal Use: Partridgeberry appears in The Physiomedical Dispensatory of 1869, by Dr. William Cook and in other American Materia Medica. It was used — in the language of the time — "for all forms of nervous feebleness and irritability of a chronic character," but its most important use was for "uterine derangements" and for decreasing the severity of labor. King's American Dispensatory" of 1898 states, "It is said that the squaws drink a decoction of this plant for several weeks previous to their confinement, for the purpose of rendering parturition safe and easy. Similar virtues have been ascribed to it by competent physicians of our time. The remedy is peculiarly American, not being noticed or used by foreign practitioners."

References: Carol Woodward and Harold Rickett, Common Wildflowers of the Northeastern United States; USDA Forest Service Database at; also for various Materia Medica.

Submissions for the Biodiversity Corner are encouraged from everyone. The organism doesn't have to be unusual. It could be animal, vegetable or miniscule. The only requirements are that it exists in the wild and was seen in Carlisle. Send in your ideas or a whole column to Kay Fairweather at 392 School St., Carlisle MA 01741 or to

2004 The Carlisle Mosquito