The moniker Plymouth Mayflower came from reports that the plant "was said to be the first flower that the pilgrims found when they stepped on the shore of the new world," according to a post on itsnature.org.
Wildflowers of the United States' post about the plant on uswildflowers.com stated there were other names for the plant including ground laurel and mayflower. It even went so far as to break down the Latin name epigaea repens.
"Trailing arbutus is a shrub in the heath family. The stems grow along or near the ground, as indicated by the genus name: Epi is from the Greek for upon, and gaia is Greek for earth," the post staid.
In a 2004 report on the U.S. Department of Agriculture website, www.fs.usda.gov, titled "Conservation Assessment for Trailing arbutus" called trailing arbutus a prostrated, trailing evergreen shrub.
"It is found in sandy or rocky, usually xeric, woodlands with acid soil throughout the eastern United States and Canada," the report said.
It also claimed that it could trail up to 15 feet.
The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower center on its website, www.wildflower.org, described the shrub as having broad, oval, leathery leaves that are aromatic and evergreen.
More website surfing revealed that trailing arbutus also gets by with a little help from its little friends.
A post from www.gardeningknowhow.com also said the shrub "grows from a specific type of fungus that nourishes the roots."
The plant is also the host plant for the hoary elfin butterfly.
"It appears to be sensitive to abrupt environmental disturbances, such as lumbering and grazing, which may account for its present scarcity. It is difficult to cultivate," the post said.
A post on the Virginia Native Plant Society's website vnps.org reinforced this point.
The Gardening Know How post wrote cautioned folks about trying to grow trailing arbutus.
"... The plant rarely produces fruit and trailing arbutus wildflowers are nearly impossible to transplant. Due to the plant’s particular growing requirements and destruction of its habitat, mayflower trailing arbutus wildflowers have become very rare. If you are lucky enough to see a mayflower plant growing in the wild, do not attempt to remove it. The species is protected by law in many states, and removal is prohibited. Once trailing arbutus disappears from an area, it will probably never return," the post continued.
The Wildflowers of the United States post stated, "it is endangered in Florida, where it is found in the panhandle. It is also protected in New York, and may be extirpated in Illinois. It is the state flower of Massachusetts, and is legally protected there as well. "
Meanwhile the 2004 report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture said the plant is "considered common and secure through most of its range."
However it went on to state "trailing arbutus is subject to collection (its evergreen leaves are used for wreaths) and may be slow to recover following disturbance."
I did manage to find a post on one site itsnature.org that mentioned the plant was protected in this state.
The trailing arbutus seems to have diminished somewhat in my stomping grounds. However, it wasn't from any wreath making. Although, I must admit that a wreath made out of the leaves and flowers would be absolutely gorgeous.
There used to be large patches of the shrub intermingled with tea-berry plants on a bank behind my parents' field. There used to be several large swathes of it in the neighbor's field as well.
The ground was literally covered with them.
However, the huge patches have dwindled over the years.
I don't think it was due to any over-picking on my grandmother's part.
Other plants were able to gain a foothold in places they didn't venture because of that environment. Slowly more trees grew. That meant more leaves and hence better soil for other plants.
That's just the nature of things 'round here.