Gravel Plant, Shadflower, and Ground Laurel
Ericaceae (Heath) Family
Photo courtesy Vitaly Charny, Conecuh National Forest
The plant is a trailing or sprawling evergreen with sweet scented pink or white flowers. Its preferred habitat is sandy and rocky soils, dry wooded areas, and especially in areas where the soil has a high acid content. Distribution is occasional in the Escambia region.
The leaves are about three inches long, thick and leathery, oval in outline with hairy margins. There are no teeth and no lobes.
The flowers are in terminal and axillary clusters, white or pink in color. Each flower is at the tip of a short hairy stem, bisexual in nature and symmetrical in form. The corolla is tubular and hairy within, flaring into five lobes, each as long as the corolla tube. Flowers occur in the spring.
To locate this favorite wildflower, search among fallen leaves in early spring. It favors exposed sites where the plants are not smothered by leaf litter. Arbutus is sensitive to abrupt disturbances, such as clear-cutting and grazing. These disturbances account for its scarcity in the Escambia region. The plant is extremely difficult to cultivate.