vaccinium

Of the four hundred fifty or so species of fruiting shrubs that come under the genus Vaccinium and found throughout North America and mountainous regions of South America, about a dozen are native to parts of the Pacific Northwest, including Oregon.

Known by many common names including sparkleberry, whortleberry, huckleberry (though not “true” huckleberries), crowberry and several others, the majority of the fruiting varieties require similar care and growing conditions as their most well-known relatives, the common blueberry: acidic, well-drained soil, sun to partial shade, regular water.

Essentially pest and disease free, and not requiring much pruning other than occasional light pruning to shape, Vacciniums are a great addition to the garden. The berries are edible to both humans and birds, so they are an asset to both the wildlife and wild fruit gardens. The species we most commonly see, and that have great garden potential are:

vaccinium ovatum

Vaccinium ovatum: Evergreen Huckleberry

In the spring, the branches of Evergreen Huckleberry are covered with clusters of tiny, pinkish-white bell-shaped flowers, followed by tiny blue-black fruit. The fruit is so small that it takes a good-sized portion to make jam, jelly or syrup - but it is worth the effort for their sweet, fresh flavor.

Evergreen leaves are so nice that branches are used in florist arrangements. New growth is dark red and turns deep green as leaves mature.

Grows 4-5’ x 4-5’ in the city – 12’ x 4-5’ in forests. Sun to shade – in sunny areas the plant will be shorter, denser and more compact. In shady areas Vaccinium ovatum will be taller, more open and graceful. Z7-9


vaccinium parvifolium

Vaccinium parvifolium: Red Huckleberry

Vaccinium parvifolium is most commonly found west of the Cascades; in open to dense forests, frequently growing out of conifer stumps or fallen and decaying logs. Delicate, small, light green oval leaves grow from the many tiny twigs along the branches, followed in spring by fairly inconspicuous greenish-white bell shaped flowers along the stems.

The fruits are tiny, red to orange-red, sweet-tart in flavor. They stand out in strong contrast to the bright green branches and leaves. This shrub will grow anywhere from three to twelve feet in height, reaching its taller limits in shadier conditions. Z6-8.


Vaccinium membranaceum Huckleberry Flowers

Vaccinium membranaceum: Black Huckleberry

Black Huckleberry is a fairly common under story plant in northwest coniferous forests. The leaves are elliptical and somewhat larger than those of the Vaccinium ovatum, spaced much further apart along the stem. Flowers are creamy to yellow-pink bells that emerge from the leaf axis, followed by larger, purplish, tasty berries. In fall, the foliage turns red to reddish-purple.

Grows 3-6’, Sun-Pt shade, Z6-8.


Some of the other deciduous, native Vaccinium species are Vaccinium ovalifolium, Vaccinium alaskense, Vaccinium deliciosum, Vaccinium oxycoccus and Vaccinium uliginosum.