9 Huckleberry Varieties (Varieties and Uses)

A focused shot of huckleberry fruit.

About a dozen species of fruiting shrubs belonging to the genus Vaccinium are native to portions of the Pacific Northwest, including Oregon, and are widespread throughout North America and mountainous sections of South America.

Many of the fruiting varieties, such as sparkleberry, whortleberry, huckleberry (though not “true” huckleberries), crowberry, and others, require similar care and growing conditions to their most well-known relatives, the common blueberry: acidified, well-drained soil, sun to partial shade, and regular watering.

Huckleberry hunters, whether Native Americans, more recent inhabitants or berry-loving grizzly and black bears, are always on the lookout for the rich purple to scarlet fruit. Even if they aren’t pickers, any Northwester or tourist won’t be able to resist the huckleberry jams, shakes, pies, and fresh berries that are synonymous with August and September for many of us.

The berries grow best between 3,000 and 7,000 ft., frequently on hillsides, and require considerable effort to gather. A grownup may only pick about three quarts per day. Nobody knows how widespread huckleberries are, but Forest Service ecologist Don Minore estimated as much as 100,000 productive acres in Oregon and Washington alone in the late 1970s.

It’s impossible to discuss huckleberries without getting into a dispute regarding the fruit’s name and botanical ties. There is an East Coast and European huckleberry, but they are not the same as the West Coast huckleberry, which is a blueberry cousin. All Western huckleberries belong to the genus Vaccinium, which includes a wide range of berries from the cranberry to the “bilberry” of the British Isles, all of which are members of the heather family.

However, things start to get a little thorny after that. Despite its relative resemblance to cultivated and wild blueberries, huckleberries have significantly stronger flavors. They also differ greatly depending on temperature and soil; a huckleberry from the Pacific coast will be very different from one from the Rocky Mountains.

Varieties of Huckleberry

Huckleberries are an excellent addition to the garden because they are virtually pest and disease-free, and they don’t require much pruning other than occasional light pruning to shape. The berries are beneficial to animals and wild fruit gardens since they are edible for both. The most common species we encounter, and which have a lot of garden potential, are:

· Evergreen Huckleberry

A focused shot of a wild evergreen huckleberry.

From southern California to Central British Columbia, Vaccinium Ovatum grows wild along the Pacific coast. This species can be found along roadsides and on the sides of clearings in coniferous woods. The bushes can reach a height of one to twelve feet and form dense groupings.

The plant’s stiff, serrated leaves make it commercially useful for flower arrangements, and wild stands are picked for foliage. On small farms along the Pacific coast, evergreen huckleberries are occasionally produced. Late in the fall, the blackberries ripen and contain significant levels of anthocyanins and antioxidants. Fruit yields aren’t very high. Adaptation to locations away from the shore is still a work in progress.

Evergreen branches are utilized in floral bouquets because their leaves are so attractive. The new growth is dark crimson, and as the leaves mature, they turn a deep green color. In the city, it grows 4-5′ by 4-5′; in the forest, it grows 12′ x 4-5′. Sun to shadow – the plant will be denser, shorter, and more compact in sunny settings. Evergreen huckleberry will grow taller, more open, and more graceful in shaded situations.

· Dwarf Huckleberry

The dwarf huckleberry can be found all over North America. The plants reach a height of 3 to 24 inches and produce vivid blueberries with a delicious flavor. From sea level to 10,000 feet, this species can be found on wet or dry acidic soils. It has the ability to create large colonies. Despite the fact that Native Americans used it for food and trade, commercial pickers do not currently target it due to the small berry size.

· Cascade Huckleberry

Cascade huckleberry is found in alpine meadows at elevations of 2,000 to 5,500 feet in California, Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia. Although the procumbent canes can be six ft. or longer, the plants develop to be six to thirty-six inches tall.

Due to higher concentrations of ketones and esters, the large, bright blue, glaucous berries have exceptional flavor and aroma. Because the fruit is only borne at the extremities of the canes, yield potential may be limited.

Cascade huckleberry is adapted to moist soils and is commonly found at the edges of ponds, but it can also thrive on drier highland soils and form dense heaths that cover thousands of square feet. Commercial demand for the berries is high, but supply is limited due to small, dispersed populations.

· Red Huckleberry

A single red huckleberry, focused shot.

Washington, Western Oregon, British Columbia, and California are home to the red huckleberry. Scattered populations have been documented in British Columbia’s interior and east. In and among clearings, this species grows from sea level to 3,500 feet elevation.

The bushes range in height from 3 to more than twenty feet. All coastal Indian tribes used the red, waxy fruits in jams and preserves, despite the fact that the flavor is sour. Until early winter, berries can be found hanging from the branches. Although it is high in p-hydroxybenzoic acid, the fruit has modest anthocyanin contents and antioxidant capacity.

Red huckleberries are one of the easiest western species to cultivate, but they appear to have minimal commercial worth at the moment. Commercially viable red huckleberries can be made with product development and creative marketing.

· Mountain Huckleberry

Mountain huckleberry is a plant that grows wild in the northwest United States and western Canada, with outcroppings in Minnesota and Arizona. The plants are mostly found in or around clearings in coniferous woodlands between 2,000 and 11,000 feet in height. Canes range in height from 1 to 9 feet.

Bushes of the plant are rhizomatous, which means they don’t transplant well from the wild. The berries come in a variety of colors, including red, blue, purple, black, and white, and have a good to exceptional flavor and aroma. In the year 2000, it was designated as Idaho’s official fruit. The berries are picked in the wild for commercial use, and they are the most extensively harvested huckleberry.

· Bilberry

Bilberry fruit, close up shot.

Bilberry is a plant that can be found in Europe, North America, and Asia. It can be found in open, damp coniferous woods in North America, usually over 2,000 feet elevation. This specie grows near the sea level in Europe and frequently develops enormous, dominant colonies. Plants can reach a height of 6 to 24 inches.

The berries are popular in Europe for culinary and therapeutic purposes because they contain antioxidants and chemicals that are helpful to human health. It is currently not harvested economically in North America; however, it is taken commercially in Finland and other European countries from the wild.

· Oval-leaved Bilberry

It can be found from sea level to 6,400 feet elevation at the borders of woodland clearings and under moderate to light canopies over the northern United States, southern Canada, and parts of Asia and Europe. The plants can reach a height of 1.5 to 12 feet.

The berries possess a deep blue color and are high in anthocyanins and antioxidants. Due to minimal esters and ketones, the flavor is mild to sour, but the crop has commercial promise for nutritional supplements.

· Black Huckleberry

In northwest coniferous woods, black huckleberry is a frequent understory species. The leaves are oval in shape and slightly larger than those of most other species, and they are placed significantly farther apart along the stem. Flowers arise from the leaf axis as creamy to yellow-pink bells, followed by bigger, purplish, delicious berries. The foliage becomes reddish-purple in the fall.

· Alpine Bilberry

Alpine Bilberry plants grow from a few inches to about 36 inches tall, yielding single berries or clusters of two or three glaucous, blueberries with a diameter of one-fourth inch. The flavor is excellent, but the yields are frequently insufficient. In Asia and northern Europe, wild Alpine bilberry is gathered for domestic and commercial usage.

In Europe, some attempts have been made to cultivate the crop. In North America, it is not a commercially important crop.

Uses of Huckleberry

Huckleberries have long been harvested by Native Americans and First Nations peoples along the Pacific coast, in interior British Columbia, Idaho, and Montana, for use as food or traditional medicine. The berries are small and spherical, with a diameter of 5–10 millimeters (0.20–0.39 in) with the appearance of huge dark blueberries.

They can have a tart, blueberry-like flavor, particularly in blue and purple-colored kinds, and some have substantially bigger bitter seeds. Jam, pudding, sweets, pie, ice cream, muffins, pancakes, salad dressings, juice, tea, soup, and syrup are just a few of the meals and beverages that may be made with the fruit.

Pain, heart problems, and infections were among the traditional medicinal applications. Huckleberries are eaten by bears, birds, coyotes, and deer in the wild.

Fruit of Huckleberry

The flavor of huckleberry is similar to that of a blueberry with a robust flavor. They are not a commercial crop, but they are occasionally gathered in great quantities from the wild and sold in grocery stores and roadside stalls. The fruit ripens in the middle of summer, although it takes several years for the tree to bear fruit after it has been planted.

Environmental Preferences

Huckleberries are commonly seen growing in forests in the wild, but they can tolerate practically any amount of sun or shade. In the shade, berry production is limited, but water requirements are low, and the bushes normally grow higher; in the full sun, there is a risk of leaf scorch if the plants are not adequately hydrated, but they produce abundant amounts of fruit and are shorter and more compact.

Huckleberries require a well-drained, organically rich soil. They have evolved to live in acidic soil, which can be artificially generated by adding peat moss or Sulphur to the soil.

Planting

Huckleberries are usually grown as container plants in nurseries rather than from seed. Plant gallon-size or larger plants in the fall or early spring when the temperature is cool for greatest success.

Before planting, gently loosen all roots present outside the root ball and dig a hole twice the width of the root ball but the same depth. To ensure that the root crown has proper drainage, make sure the top of the root ball is level with the surrounding soil level.

Caring for Huckleberries

Huckleberries are one of the easiest plants to grow. They don’t need to be pruned or fertilized, but they should be maintained well-watered. One of the most effective ways to keep them healthy is to apply a thick layer of mulch to the root zone. Huckleberries are rarely afflicted by pests or diseases.

Final Thoughts  

Huckleberries are a charming natural shrub that deserves more attention in the landscape. They are highly handsome overall and yield great fruit as a boon, even though they lack any particular spectacular characteristic.

Similar Posts