Mitchella repens is a perennial herb, stems 10-30 cm long, trailing, small, evergreen, mat-forming colonial, rooting at nodes; roots associated with ericoid mycorrhizal fungi (Berliner and Torrey 1989); most reproduction is vegetative; life span at least 15 years (Bierzychudek 1982).
Leaves opposite, stalks present, blade 1-2 cm long and wide, almost round, dark green, leathery, midrib usually conspicuously pale, secondary veins often pale; leaf life span 120 weeks (Hicks and Chabot 1985).
Flowers white to pinkish, 4-parted, fragrant, paired, floral bases (hypanthia) fused, corolla tubular, radially symmetrical, tube 1-1.4 cm long, funnel-shaped, petal lobes mostly 4, 0.3-0.4 cm long, spreading, inner surface hairy; calyx 0.3-0.4 cm long bases of flower pair fused, lobes tiny (Radford et al. 1968); stamens 4; ovaries of a flower pair united, inferior; style longer than petal lobes, stigmas 4, linear; self-incompatible, held on short, erect shoots, pollinated by bumble bees (Bombus vagans, B. impatiens); dimorphous, flowers within a clone are either all long-styled and short stamened (pin) or short-styled and long-stamened (thrum), bees forced to forage among different clones as few nectar-rich flowers are open on any one clone at one time, probably ensures the high rate of fruit set. Blooms June-July, well after forest canopy closure, when spring ephemerals have finished.
Fruit fleshy, red, 0.5-0.8 cm wide; one fruit produced by a pair of flowers, crowned by both sets of old sepal lobes; seeds (actually nutlets) 8; fruit matures July-Oct.; persistent through winter; edible, but tasteless (Yatskievych 2006).
Fruit set of over 86% (Hicks et al. 1985). Eaten by some birds and mammals, including raccoon and deer, red fox (Coladonato 1993) and small mammals that disperse seeds, pulp lipid <10% (White and Stiles 1992).
Wetland status: FACU.
Frequency in NYC: Infrequent.
Habitat: Ground cover in undisturbed, moist forests, acid forest soils; found in soil pH 5.0. Shade tolerant, requires at least 0.4% sunlight in order to survive (compensation point), cannot use more than 7.0% full sunlight (saturation point) (Hicks and Chabot 1985). Intolerant of fire (Coladonato, M. 1993).