Are Western Huckleberries Really Huckleberries?

If you are versed in horticulture and other plant-related sciences, you might also wonder if western huckleberries are really huckleberries.  Those of us who live and pick these wild berries in the Pacific Northwest will valiantly defend our precious huckleberries.  

But the OPD website offers an article by Crystal Ligori explaining how huckleberries are not really huckleberries. 

A huckleberry by any other name: The story behind Westerners’ favorite wild berries

“What we commonly called huckleberry [in the West] are native blueberry species, and all the different huckleberries that Are Western Huckleberries Really Huckleberries?we have here are genus Vaccinium which is the same genus as commercial blueberries,” Strik said. “And the same genus as other native blueberry species.” …

Strik explained that true huckleberries, Gaylussacia baccata, have 10 large seeds and are only native to Eastern North America. While they are blue and have a similar look as a blueberry, those 10 large seeds are kind of hard to miss. …

Still, the name is hard to shake, so we’ll split the difference and call these Vaccinium varieties Western huckleberries.

The article continues talking about the growing conditions needed for huckleberries to survive.

Climate is critical to Western huckleberries. In fact, it is one of the main reasons you don’t see the berries growing in backyards across the country. …

One of the challenges is that many Western huckleberry varieties are adapted to high elevations. They need the colder winters and less sun, thriving in the shorter growing season of high elevations. The plants are also used to the increased humidity that comes with rain and mountain fog.

Strik said she often gets asked why commercial growers aren’t producing Western huckleberries. She explained that in addition to not being adapted to grow at lower elevations, even in ideal conditions, the plants just don’t produce a lot of fruit. …

Western huckleberry season is short, lasting only a few weeks between August and September, and if you’re not foraging them yourselves, prepare to pay a pretty penny.

NOTE:  Huckleberry season varies in different areas around the Pacific Northwest.  The article is focused on Oregon, but in other locations, the season can start in July — depending on the weather!

Also, Gaylussacia baccata (referenced in the article quote), also known as the black huckleberry, typically grows in the New England states of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont.

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