Gaultheria Mucronata

Credit: David Mosquin

Gaultheria mucronata produces a mass of lilac-coloured, blueberry-sized globes that persist through winter in the Pacific Northwest. Various texts claim that fruit of all members of the genus Gaultheria can be toxic, but it is known that the indigenous peoples of Chile relied on G. mucronata as a food source. I’ve eaten it without ill effect, though not for the taste, which is bland (the sensation of popping the thick-skinned fruit is a bit of a novelty).

Often known as pernettya, and less commonly as prickly heath, for many years this plant was placed in the genus Pernettya. This lasted until it was recognized that all members of the genus Pernettya were genetically indistinguishable from Gaultheria. Modern taxonomy suggests that nomenclature should reflect evolutionary relationships, so the names were changed in accordance with the evidence.

– Daniel Mosquin, UBC Botanical Garden