Mitchella repens L.

Partridge Berry


CC = 7
CW = 3
MOC = 12

© SRTurner

Family - Rubiaceae

Habit - Perennial forb.

Stem - To 50 cm, prostrate, creeping (sometimes pendant from bluff ledges), usually rooting at the nodes, often forming mats, rounded or sometimes channeled on 2 opposing sides, minutely pubescent with short, straight to curved hairs or nearly glabrous.

Mitchella_repens_stem.jpg Stem and leaves.

© SRTurner

Mitchella_repens_stipule.jpg Stipule.

Interpetiolar stipules—spanning the node from one petiole base to the other—are a diagnostic feature of the Rubiaceae.

© SRTurner

Leaves - Opposite, petiolate, simple, stipulate, usually evergreen. Petioles 1-15 mm long, somewhat thickened, leathery, and succulent. Stipules interpetiolar, 0.5-1.0 mm long, triangular, generally persistent, pointed at the tip or sometimes lobed, often minutely gland-tipped. Leaf blades glabrous, 5-20 mm long, 5-20 mm wide, broadly ovate to nearly circular, rounded to broadly pointed at the tip, broadly rounded to slightly cordate at the base, the upper surface dark green, usually glossy, the undersurface green, the venation with the midvein and usually 2 or 3 pairs of pinnate, secondary veins visible.

Mitchella_repens_leaves1.jpg Leaves adaxial.

© SRTurner

Mitchella_repens_leaves2.jpg Leaves abaxial.

© SRTurner

Inflorescence - Terminal and occasionally also axillary, of usually 2 flowers at the tip of a common stalk 1-4 mm long.

Mitchella_repens_inflorescence.jpg Inflorescence.

© SRTurner

Flowers - Flowers distylous, the hypanthia of each pair fused into a single unit. Calyces deeply lobed, the lobes 0.5-1.0 mm long, broadly triangular. Corollas funnelform, white, externally glabrous, the tube 7-10 mm long, densely bearded in the throat with the pubescence usually extending onto the lobes, the lobes usually 4, 3-4 mm long, ovate-triangular, spreading to slightly recurved, not overlapping in bud. Stamens usually 4, attached in the corolla throat, in short-styled flowers the anthers well exerted, in long-styled flowers the anthers situated in the throat and not or only partially visible from the outside of the corolla. Ovaries of each flower pair (or trio) fused, inferior, each 4-locular, the ovules 1 per locule. Style 1, slender, terminating in 4, short, linear stigmas, in short-styled flowers these positioned near the midpoint in the corolla tube, in long-styled flowers well-exserted.

Mitchella_repens_calyx.jpg Calyx.

© SRTurner

Mitchella_repens_flowers.jpg Flowers.

These are short-styled flowers, which have the stamens (but not the styles) exserted from the corollas. This is termed the "thrum" or "brevistylous" flower form in a distylous species.

© SRTurner

Mitchella_repens_flowers2.jpg These are long-styled flowers, having the styles (but not the stamens) exserted from the corolla. This is termed the "pin" or "longistylous" flower form in a distylous species.

© SRTurner

Mitchella_repens_corollas.jpg Corollas.

© SRTurner

Fruit - Fruits of the 2(3) flowers in each inflorescence fused into a single unit with a pair of minute, persistent calyces at the tip, berrylike drupes, 6-9 mm long, 7-10 mm wide, subglobose to depressed-globose, bright orange to red, with a total of 4-8(-12) small stones.

Mitchella_repens_fruit.jpg Fruit.

© SRTurner

Flowering - May - July.

Habitat - Bluff bases, bottomland forests, streambanks, usually on sandy or acidic substrate.

Origin - Native to the U.S.

Lookalikes - Broadly, and vegetatively, Euonymus fortunei.

Other info. - This characteristic species of sandstone canyons and ledges is fairly common in Missouri only where this type of habitat exists, in a few counties in the southeastern portion of the state. Its broader distribution includes most of the eastern continental U.S. and parts of Canada, Mexico, and Central America. When flowering or fruiting it is more or less unmistakable. The peculiarly paired white flowers are unique, as are the fused, bright red fruits.

The plant has been used medicinally by Native Americans to treat a variety of ailments, and is still in use today by herbalists, who claim effectiveness in female reproductive disorders. The fruits are apparently edible, but only in a technical sense, being tasteless and seedy. Gleason and Cronquist (1991) referred to them as insipid. This is an attractive species which Steyermark recommended cultivating in a terrarium, as it is apparently a difficult garden subject.

Photographs taken at Pickle Springs Natural Area, Ste. Genevieve County, MO, 9-19-2009, and at Don Robinson State Park, Jefferson County, MO, 5-24-2017 (SRTurner).