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Prince Edward Island has relatively few vines and partridgeberry is a rare one. This ground-creeping evergreen grows in dense mats up to 4 inches (10 cm) tall. It has small, oppositely arranged, almost round leaves with white veins. The funnel-shaped pinkish white flowers appear in July and come in pairs. The twin flowers share an ovary, resulting in one red fused double berry at the end of the branch. The flowers are four petalled and have small white hairs on the interior.
Partridgeberry favours coniferous and mixed forests that are mossy and moist. They prefer shade and do not do well in competition with grasses and herbs.
Partridgeberry is quite difficult to grow from seeds. It can be done, but the germination rate is quite low. Even then, you have to be patient with them, as most of the germinating will be done the second spring. Plant seeds every 2 inches (5 cm) in rows 4 inches (10 cm) apart, at a depth of 1/4 inch (6 mm). Cover with a light mulch. Like most groundcovers, this sub-shrub can be grown from cuttings, but unless you find a very large patch and have permission, you should avoid this.
One exception is if you find it on a woods road (again, having permission and making sure there are sufficient numbers of other partridgeberry plants around.) In that case, cut off about 6 inches (15 cm) from the tip of the plant, carefully dig up the section and preserve any roots, and transplant to a shaded nursery bed or a place in a mixed wood forest that has rich, moist soil.
True to its name, partridgeberry is a favourite food of ruffed grouse and grey partridge. The fruit is also eaten by songbirds, red fox, raccoon, and some rodents, including the red squirrel. Partridgeberry is used by many other species of wildlife. Forest insects and foraging pollinators visit the flowers and while doing so become food for various warblers and other woodland birds. The berries are also particularly enjoyed by members of the thrush family, such as the American robin, and both of our native hermit and Swainson’s thrush. This is especially important, as both of these thrushes tend to thrive in older forests, a rare habitat across PEI. Allowing forests to age across the province will help restore these habitats over time. However, the addition of plants like partridgeberry can increase the carrying capacity of these rare habitats.
Areas of Usage:
A lover of shade and a plant that shies away from competition, partridgeberry has a more limited diversity of acceptable planting sites than some of our other rare native plant species. Excellent for forest restoration, it prefers rich and moist soils, such as along woodland rivers and forest trails. Assessing the forest ground cover can help determine appropriate sites for plantings. If ground cover flora are predominately shade-loving species like bunchberry or ferns rather than sun-loving species such as grasses and hawkweeds, it is a good indication that partridgeberry will take hold.
The paired flowers of partridgeberry are unusual in that they work together to grow a single berry. Both of the flowers must be pollinated in order to produce a berry, which shows two “dimples near its end. These result from the two flowers joining to produce one berry.
The flowers grow in pairs and work together to produce the berries. Both flowers in each pair must be pollinated for the berry to form. The berries display their joint parentage with a pair of dimples which are said to represent each of the unique characteristics of the flowers it was formed from.