What are Mummified Huckleberries?

A reader recently posted the following question on our website concerning mummified huckleberries:

… We have many red huckleberry and evergreen huckleberry bushes in our woods (in Washington).  I have noticed mummies in the e.h. plants–a local blueberry farmer expressed surprise that mummification had migrated to the wild.  Do you know if that is common, or something new?

I was not familar with mummified huckleberries, so I contacted Dr. Dan Barney who sent the following reply:

Mummy berry is caused by a fungal pathogen known as Monilinia urnula. This fungus attacks domestic blueberries and also their closely related western huckleberry and bilberry cousins. Please see Huckleberry (Vaccinium spp.)-Mummy Berry | Pacific Northwest Plant Disease Handbook

Mummified huckleberries

Red arrow points to mummified fruit of black huckleberry, Vaccinium membranaceum. Mount Revelstoke and Glacier National Parks, British Columbia.

The pathogen is harmless to humans and nonmummified fruit can be harvested and used. Resistance to the disease varies between different genotypes (genetically distinct plants within the same species), and temperature and humidity play huge roles in whether the berries become infected. In warm, dry years, the disease may be nearly absent in a given huckleberry population, but very severe in the same population during a wet year. In my huckleberry and bilberry breeding program, this is one of the diseases that I screen for in choosing parent plants, in an attempt to select for resistance.

Thanks Dr. Barney for your explanation and references to the mummified huckleberries.

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