Subshrubs, creeping, not mat-forming, rhizomatous or stoloniferous; adventitious roots absent. Stems decumbent, branches ascending, 5-20 cm, lanate, glabrescent. Leaf blades (pale green abaxially, bright green, glaucous adaxially), obovate to oval or orbiculate, 1.5-4.5 cm, base cuneate to rounded, margins serrate (teeth bristle-tipped), (slightly revolute), apex acute to rounded or obtuse, rarely mucronate, surfaces sparsely hairy (hairs unbranched). Inflorescences axillary, solitary flowers or with 2-3 nodding flowers per node; bracts reddish, cordate, distinctly concave, 1-2 mm, not exceeding sepals, ciliate marginally. Pedicels pinkish, 1-3 mm, lanate; bracteoles absent. Flowers: sepals 5, connate 1/2 to nearly their entire lengths, white, cordate, 2.5-3.5 mm, ciliate marginally; petals 5, connate nearly their entire lengths, white, 8-10 mm, adaxial surface lanate-hairy, corolla urceolate, lobes 1 mm; filaments (pinkish), slightly widened proximally, lanate-tomentose; anthers with 2 apical awns (awns not bifurcating), dehiscent by subterminal pores proximal to awns. Fruits bright red to reddish violet, 6-9 mm wide. 2n = 44, 88. Flowering Jun-Sep; fruiting Sep-Jan. Mixed woodlands, mesic forests, dry, acidic woodlands, powerline rights-of-way, roadbanks, old pastures, coniferous woodlands, maritime heathlands, montane heath balds, bogs and fens, usually in acidic and/or sandy soils; 0-1500 m; Man., N.B., Nfld. and Labr. (Nfld.), N.S., Ont., P.E.I., Que.; Ala., Conn., Del., D.C., Ga., Ill., Ind., Ky., Maine, Md., Mass., Mich., Minn., N.H., N.J., N.Y., N.C., Ohio, Pa., R.I., S.C., Tenn., Vt., Va., W.Va., Wis. Although common or abundant in most of its range, Gaultheria procumbens has been listed as endangered in Illinois.
From Flora of Indiana (1940) by Charles C. Deam
Rare to frequent in some of the northern counties. Southward it has been found in only a few places in a few counties as relicts on sandstone outcrops. Its preferred habitat in Indiana is rather moist and very sandy black oak flats. It is also found on dry, sandy black and white oak slopes. The usual form of the leaf is obovate to oval but plants with nearly orbicular and narrow-elliptic leaves are found. The extremes in leaf form have been given botanical names but I do not consider our plants as coming within the range of the named forms.
Leafy stems suberect from a horizontal rhizome, 1-2 dm, with a few lvs crowded near the top; petioles 2-5 mm; blades elliptic or oblong to rarely subrotund, 2-5 cm, entire or crenulate, glabrous; fls 5-merous, on nodding pedicels 5-10 mm; cal saucer-shaped; cor barrel-shaped, 7-10 mm, the rounded lobes 1 mm; fr bright red, 7-10 mm; 2n=44, 88. Dry or moist woods in acid soil; Nf. to Man., s. to Va., Ky., n. Ind., Minn., and in the mts. to Ga. and Ala. July, Aug.
Gleason, Henry A. & Cronquist, Arthur J. 1991. Manual of vascular plants of northeastern United States and adjacent Canada. lxxv + 910 pp.