Posted April 22, 2016 By sandy
As you know, we have tons of information about huckleberries on this site — especially about the huckleberries grown in the Rocky Mountain and Pacific Northwest region. But we may not have EVERYTHING you want to know about huckleberries!
But, believe it or not, there is some interesting information about huckleberry on Wikipedia
Following is some information from their huckleberry listing:
The name ‘huckleberry’ is a North American variation of the English dialectal name variously called ‘hurtleberry’ or ‘whortleberry’ for the bilberry. In North America the name was applied to numerous plant variations all bearing small berries with colors that may be red, blue or black. It is the common name for various Gaylussacia species, and some Vaccinium species, such as Vaccinium parvifolium, the red huckleberry, and is also applied to other Vaccinium species which may also be called blueberries depending upon local custom, as in New England and parts of Appalachia.
The ‘garden huckleberry’ (Solanum scabrum) is not a true huckleberry, but is instead a member of the nightshade family.
Here is the info about our local huckleberries:
From coastal Central California to southern Washington and British Columbia, the red huckleberry (Vaccinium parvifolium) is found in the maritime-influenced plant community. In the Pacific Northwest and mountains of Montana and Idaho, this huckleberry species and several others, such as the black Vaccinium huckleberry (V. membranaceum) and blue (Cascade) huckleberry (V. deliciosum), grow in various habitats, such as mid-alpine regions up to 11,500 feet elevation, mountain slopes, forests or lake basins. The plant grows best in damp, acidic soil having volcanic origin, attaining under optimal conditions heights of 1.5 to 2 m (4.9 to 6.6 ft), usually ripening in mid-to-late summer or later at high elevations.
I found it very interesting that many of the quotes in this Wikipedia article are from Dr. Dan Barney, who previously, ran the U of I Research Center in Sandpoint where he worked on several huckleberry projects!
Posted February 25, 2016 By sandy
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
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.
Posted July 2, 2015 By sandy
Tabitha Graves research on huckleberries in West Glacier has reveals some interesting facts:
Glacier Park researcher hopeful that huckleberry-monitoring project will help predict bear activity
WEST GLACIER – For Tabitha Graves, the ability to presage a bumper crop of huckleberries – or, conversely, a dearth of the delicious fruit – carries far greater implications than merely filling up jam jars or homing in on a secret picking patch.
Graves, a research ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey’s Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center in Glacier National Park, is in the second year of a pilot program aimed at tracking the timing and productivity of huckleberry patches, which this sultry summer are bearing little fruit at lower elevations.
She won’t hazard a guess about the overall upshot of this season’s crop, though of the five monitoring sites she’s able to compare to last year’s data, only one is on par with the previous summer, which sprayed a veritable star-scape of the dark-red berries throughout the forests that hug the Continental Divide.
Wild huckleberries grow in droves on both sides of the Continental Divide, their tart flavor sought out by humans and grizzly bears alike. And while visitors to Glacier can pick one quart of huckleberries per person per day for personal consumption only (Waterton Lakes National Park only allows hand-to-mouth picking) grizzlies and black bears eat pounds of them in a single sitting.
Last summer was a good year to be a berry-eating bear, particularly as research has shown that 15 percent of a bear’s diet is made up of huckleberries, a fun fact gleaned from a not-so-fun research study – scat analysis.
The berries provide essential nutrients for bears, and if you’ve ever hiked trails lined with huckleberry bushes in Glacier Park, you have probably stepped over piles of berry-loaded bear scat…
READ THE FULL STORY
Posted April 15, 2015 By sandy
A week or so ago, we published a written copy of Dr. Barney’s interview with Kristina Johnson who is a food and agriculture reporter.
Here is the second part of the interview:
3. What ecological/human threats face the wild berries?
Although the size and number of colonies are decreasing, none of the western Vaccinium species are threatened or endangered. Most are quite robust throughout their ranges, although some species are far more common than others.
4. Your report on growing the western huckleberry explains how people can plant the bushes by seed or transplant. My horticulture know-how is likely limited here, but how is that different than domesticating the plant?
Domestication involves developing improved varieties and production methods that allow the crops to be grown reliably and easily in commercial and noncommercial settings. Domestication also means having a consistent and predictable product. You may have a favorite apple or peach variety, for example. You know what a ‘Golden Delicious’ apple looks and tastes like. You know what to expect. We were trying to develop the same predictability and quality level with huckleberries.
5. Who are the commercial pickers? Are they people who primarily make their living off of foraged forest products?
Commercial pickers range from individuals, families, and small groups that pick small quantities of berries and sell them alongside the road to large, professional crews hired by brokers or processors. Some of the commercial crews represent immigrant labor, but not all. Picking usually commences in early July and runs until the berries are frosted off in September. The major period is mid-July through late August. Obviously, this is a part-time job and is often used to supplement income from other seasonal jobs, such as work at a ski resort.
6. Are there any estimates as to how much money the annual harvest amounts to? Are there maps that show the largest harvest regions within each state? (I grew up spending summers in Montana, so I remember all the buzz around huckleberry jam, ice cream, pies. The berries were a tourist magnet).
The berries remain a tourist magnet and there are myriad huckleberry products available – culinary, cosmetic, ornamental, and nutraceutical. I have been away from the industry for five years, however, and no longer have current economic figures. You might consult with an economist at one to the regional universities for better information.
7. You mentioned in your email that some of the berries likely go to export. Can you expand on who the primary buyers are for huckleberries?
My information regarding exports is apocryphal, so I will not elaborate. My understanding is that there was a demand for freeze-dried huckleberries for Pacific Rim markets, but I have no documentation to support that assertion.
Posted March 31, 2015 By sandy
Although Dr. Barney is not currently propagating and growing huckleberries, he is still considered the expert on the subject and giving interviews to interested parties.
We are fortunate to have a written copy of his interview with Kristina Johnson who is a food and agriculture reporter:
1. Where does domestication of the berries stand now? Is there research close to succeeding?
Unfortunately, I believe little university or other government research is presently being conducted on domestication of western huckleberries and bilberries. Research funding is limited, and efforts are being directed toward well-established crops, such as raspberries, strawberries, and blueberries. Much knowledge remains to be discovered and developed before most western Vaccinium crops can be grown successfully in commercial settings.
It is important to identify the different crops. I use the term “western huckleberries and bilberries,” which includes about eight species in the genus Vaccinium. All are edible, and several have outstanding culinary quality. The seeds are usually small to very small. The common names “huckleberry,” “bilberry,” and “whortleberry” are interchangeable and many species are known by all of these names and more. Eastern huckleberries are members of genus Gaylusaccia and, like Vaccinium, members of family Ericaceae. Unlike western Vaccinium species, eastern huckleberries have ten large, hard seeds and the berry flavor and culinary quality leave much to be desired. When it came time to domesticate a blue American fruit, farmers and breeders chose highbush and lowbush blueberries.
The domestication efforts that I was involved with included work on Vaccinium species … have the greatest immediate potential as culinary crops. Vaccinium ovalifolium (oval-leaf huckleberry) has good potential as a nutraceutical crop due to its high antioxidant properties. I did not work much with Vaccinium ovatum (shot or blackwinter huckleberry) which grows along the Pacific coast and has been cultivated to a small extent, primarily for ornamental foliage used by florists.
We were able to develop and demonstrate several production systems, and know how to grow the berries. I grew many thousands of plants in Idaho and colleagues also grew the plants successfully in northwestern Montana and western Oregon. The greatest limiting factor is the lack of improved varieties that have been developed to provide good site adaptability, acceptable growth and plant habit, and commercially-acceptable fruit in sustainable yields.
My breeding program at the University of Idaho produced some advanced selections. However, we were still at least one and probably two generations from releasing a cultivated variety when the research station that I was at closed due to budget cuts and I left the University. That program was not picked up by anyone else. Some of the selections are still being tested by growers in the northwestern U.S. and western Canada. I intend to resume the Vaccinium breeding program upon my retirement from the U.S. Department of Agriculture in October 2015. That program will take place in Southcentral Alaska.
2. Can you explain the incentives to domesticate the berries? Is it primarily commercial manufacturers pushing the research? What are the economic and ecological incentives and/or potential drawbacks to domesticating the berry?
Western huckleberries and bilberries have been harvested for food for at least centuries and likely millennia. They were vitally important both for food and trade for several Native American and First Peoples nations in western North America. When European colonists arrived they quickly adopted the crops and by the early 1900s were shipping large quantities of wildcrafted (plants harvested from the wild) berries to eastern markets. Picking the berries is very labor intensive and usually takes place in remote locations. The fruits are borne individually on the bushes, rather than in large cluster like domestic blueberries, and mechanical harvesters are not often feasible. Therefore, the amount of berries one person can pick per day is low. The commercial market peaked in the 1930s, and largely died during World War II when labor became scarce. The market began to re-emerge in the 1980s as general and ecotourism increased in the Northwest and western Canada.
Prior to the early 1900s, forest fires were not controlled and the forests were very different than they are now. Tree density was lower and understory shrubs much more abundant. With the advent of modern fire-fighting methods, fires were largely removed from the landscape. Native Americans had long kept highly productive berry harvest areas productive using controlled fires. That practice was outlawed. By the end of the 20th century, tree density had greatly increased while productive berry acreage shrank dramatically as the trees reclaimed the landscape and shaded out the berry crops.
While none of the berry species is threatened or endangered, colonies suitable for commercial harvest have greatly decreased in size and number due to forest encroachment and development of forest lands. With increased demand for the fruit for commercial culinary and nutraceutical purposes, commercial harvests have become increasingly aggressive and have reduced the availability of fruit for cultural, recreational, and subsistence pickers. In a related way, commercial harvests have resulted in conflicts with some Northwestern Native American groups, for whom huckleberries are an important part of their culture.
Wild huckleberry harvests are highly variable. During some years, the yields are very high and during other years very low. On average, you can expect a good harvest every 3 to 7 years. Such unpredictability makes operating a commercial enterprise challenging and encourages overharvest whenever the opportunity presents itself. The unpredictability also influences prices greatly, impacting income for pickers, brokers, and processors.
My program was intended to provide reliable crops of commercially sustainable quantities of fruit grown in cultivation or in managed forest stands (like highbush and lowbush blueberries, respectively) and to leave the wild forest huckleberry colonies for noncommercial harvests.
More of the interview next post!
Posted April 17, 2014 By sandy
Continuation of the interview with Dr Danny Barney on the western huckleberry:
5. Why did you choose to pursue domesticating the huckleberry and why did you stop?
- Being a native of Idaho, I grew up picking huckleberries in late summer and autumn, as did my father, grandfather, and their grandfathers. The fruit is a significant part of community and family culture in some parts of western North America. When I returned to Idaho as a professor of horticulture and small fruit specialist in 1988, I was naturally inclined to work with the berries and to see if they could be cultivated.
- Western huckleberries and bilberries have a long history of trade use, predating European settlers by centuries. Between the beginning of the twentieth century and World War II, the crops were heavily harvested commercially. Although the industry died out with the creation of technology and high-paying jobs following the war, it was reborn again in the 1980s, largely due to ecotourism and the gift trade.
- Unfortunately, demand for the flavorful fruits far outstripped supplies, leading to overharvest and serious damage to some easily-accessible stands. Huckleberry patches that my family had picked from for a century were devastated. Some of my Native American friends pointed out to me that their families had been harvesting from those same stands for a millennia or more earlier.
- Demand for the fruits was strong and growing, supplies were short, and improper or excessive harvesting was having adverse environmental and social consequences. That situation continues today and one option is to produce the fruits in cultivation, as we do highbush and lowbush blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries. My goal was to provide large-scale processors and exporters with consistent supplies of high-quality fruit at reasonable prices, while conserving wild stands for smaller niche processors, and personal and cultural use by the residents and visitors to huckleberry country.
6. What are some distinguishing features of the huckleberry that I should include or focus on in a documentary? How do you introduce the berry to people who have never heard of it?
- Western huckleberries and bilberries closely resemble their eastern highbush blueberry and lowbush blueberry cousins in the appearance of the plants and fruits. They are, however, less closely related to eastern huckleberries, which are far less palatable.
- Western huckleberries differ in several important ways from domestic blueberries. For most western species, the berries have much less pulp than domestic blueberries and have thin skins that tear when the berries are picked. As a consequence, the berries leak large amounts of juice when they are picked, and the berries are nearly always processed, rather than being used fresh for table use. Domestic blueberries have thick, tough skins and come from the stems easily without tearing. This characteristic makes them ideal as a fresh finger food.
- Huckleberries also have different flavor chemistries than their domestic cousins and are prized for their powerful and exotic flavors. Depending on the cultivar, domestic blueberries have fair to excellent flavor, but little aroma. Some western huckleberry species, such as Cascade huckleberry and mountain huckleberry, are rich in esters, giving them powerful and pleasant aromas. Their flavors are also different than blueberries, sometimes described as being “wild” or “spicy.” All blue-colored blueberries and huckleberries (these crops also produce red, pink, and white berries) are rich in anthocyanin pigments and antioxidant activity. One of the species that I worked with is exceptionally high in antioxidant activity, but lacking in flavor and aroma. My work with that crop was directed toward the nutraceutial and health foods industries.
7. Are there any other wild plants that have economies / industries surrounding them the way the huckleberry does?
- Practically anywhere you go, you will find native crops that have deep cultural and economic roots. In some cases, the crops have been cultivated, in others they have not and people cherish the wild nature of the crops. Wild mushroom harvesting, for example, is practiced on a large scale in many parts of the world and many of those mushroom species have defied attempts to cultivate them. In the southern United States, mayhaw (a crabapple-like fruit) has long been harvested from the wild and cultivation is in its infancy.
8. Do you have any contacts who could be considered “experts” on huckleberries who might be interested in appearing in a documentary on huckleberries?
- I suggest contacting my friend Mr. Malcolm Dell (with the International Wild Huckleberry Association). He is a huckleberry expert and processor who is passionate about the crop and knows just about everyone who works with them.
Posted April 10, 2014 By sandy
Recently, Dr. Danny L Barney was interviewed by Jenna Pittaway, journalism student at the University of Southern California, who is researching the huckleberry for a possible documentary.
Here are his responses to questions relating to western huckleberries:
1. What does it mean to be domesticated and why is the huckleberry considered undomesticated?
Dr Barney: Western huckleberries and bilberries include nine species in western North America that are close relatives of domestic blueberries. I use the term “western huckleberries” to distinguish them from huckleberries found in eastern North America, which are distant cousins. The terms huckleberry, bilberry, blueberry, and whortleberry are interchangeable and most crops are known by several to many different names.
- Western huckleberries and bilberries are undomesticated in that the plants are general harvested from the wild. The crops are generally not grown in fields or gardens and virtually all of the berries that are used personally or commercially are harvested from naturally-occurring stands, quite often on public lands. Those stands receive little, if any, management in terms of the berry crops. Aside from my program at the University of Idaho from 1994-2010, there has been little breeding done with these crops, and no named cultivars (cultivated varieties) have been released for public or commercial use.
2. May you provide a summary of your research? How far along were you in domesticating the huckleberry and where did you leave your research – could someone pick up where you left off, or is it sort of gone forever?
Dr Barney: My research involved studying the biology of the plants and the habitats in which they are found, which includes the soils, climate, topography, and other plants growing in the same habitats. I collected seeds and plants from all nine species from the five Northwestern states, California, and Alaska and grew out and evaluated the plants for their potential for cultivated fruit production.
- After determining which species showed the greatest potential for commercial fruit production, and which sites produced the best plants and fruit, I expanded my collection trips to develop a substantial germplasm collection for breeding. The term “germplasm” refers to genetic resources, in this case live plants and seeds.
- From the many thousands of seedlings that I grew, I selected a handful that approached the standards I had set for characteristics such as upright, vigorous plant growth, and large fruits with good flavor, color, and acid to sugar balance. From those relatively few plants, I identified the most promising parents and made crosses by transferring pollen from one plant to another under very controlled conditions. In that way, I knew which offspring came from which parents.
- That program continued until the research station that I worked at and managed was closed due to budget cuts, and I left the University of Idaho to work for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. I do not know of any other huckleberry and bilberry domestication programs that are now ongoing in North America, although there is some work being done with the closely-related European blueberry or bilberry that grows across parts of Europe and Asia.
- I created a large amount of published information, much of it readily available on line, describing the crops, my research results, and recommendations for future breeding and research. I also taught many classes and workshops on the subject. Published research on the crops by Dr. Don Minore (retired, U.S. Forest Service) and Dr. Nellie Stark (retired, University of Montana) is also available. Seeds are easy to collect from the wild, and I donated part of my seed collection to the United States National Plant Germplasm System, where it is maintained at germplasm repositories in Oregon, Colorado, and even the seed vault in Svalbard, Norway.
- I expect to retire in less than two years and plan to resume my huckleberry and bilberry breeding program in Alaska.
- For an introduction to huckleberries and my work, do an internet search using the words “barney huckleberry university of idaho.”
3. Were there past efforts to domesticate the berry, or was your work the first serious attempt?
- Several Native American and First Peoples groups in North America relied heavily on western huckleberry and bilberry crops for food and trade. Some of the nations were expert at managing naturally-occurring stands to keep the berry fields open and productive. Fire was one of the tools that they used for managing the stands.
- European settlers to western North America quickly began attempts to cultivate huckleberries and bilberries, usually by digging up plants and transplanting them to gardens. Those attempts nearly all failed and the myth was born that huckleberries cannot be cultivated. In reality, the problem was that what people thought were bushes were generally little more than branches from the underground stems that make up much of the plant body for some species. Digging up plants from the wild is seldom successful because few roots are dug up with the “bushes.” For practical, as well as environmental, reasons, I stopped removing plants from the wild many years ago and grew my plants from seed. Based on what we have learned about the plants and their habitat requirements, I was able to grow thousands of huckleberry and bilberry plants quite successfully, as did colleagues in Oregon and Montana.
4. Is anyone pursuing the domestication of the huckleberry presently?
Dr Barney: Not that I am aware of.
More of this interview next week!
Posted March 12, 2014 By sandy
Many of you know of Dr. Dan Barney’s huckleberry research. If not, the International Wild Huckleberry Association followed his research until the UI closed his center in 2010 (See Dr. Barney’s Research).
Dr. Barney research, since 2004 (as documented on our site), resulted in finding successful methods to propagate the wild huckleberry from the norther Rockies area. Much of our original information posted on this site, came from Dr. Barney’s notes, workshops and documentation.
After Dr. Barney left Idaho, he was forced to abandon his research. The lab was dismantled and his plants were sold and donated to nurseries and interested folks in the area.
Since that time, we have had some contact with Dr. Barney, but nothing more than a note here and there telling us a bit about his new job(s) and his family. I was sad to hear that he had stopped his research.
Recently, I received an exciting note from him talking about his next big project that I would like to share.
Some good news. I ran germination tests on my (huckleberry) seed last month. The trip down from Alaska was less than smooth and the trucking company lost our household goods for two months in 100 degree plus weather. I expected all of the seed to be dead, but germination rates are still very good. All of the breeding lines are alive and well and ready to start next year when we return to Alaska. I also have an extensive new collection of alpine bilberry seed (a.k.a. Alaska blueberry in the north) that came from outstanding plants. I expect to have selections ready to release quite quickly, including some that should do well in the lower 48. The crop is extremely adaptable and flourishes from southern Alaska to well north of Fairbanks. The flavor is not quite as good as the Idaho huckleberry, but a little tweaking and a few crosses between the two should produce an easy-to-grow plant with excellent flavor and aroma.
We still have about 18 months before I can retire. We finished our retirement home in Alaska last November and are renting it out for now….. We have just under an acre of land, plenty to do my berry and rhubarb breeding work. The growers there are tremendous and I will have no difficulty getting people to test the selections. ….
We miss Idaho. That is where I was born and where we lived for many years … The people there are great and I appreciate all the support that I had for my program.
Great news!! We will be looking forward to more info from Dr. Barney (affectionately known as “Dr. Huckleberry”) and his continuing research.
Posted August 29, 2013 By sandy
As you know, we sell huckleberry picking rakes. Rakes can increase your yield 4 to 10 times in the same amount of time as picking by hand. Our rakes, in particular, are light weight and easy to use.
(If you want more info on our huckleberry rakes, check out our website, Huckleberry Rake. where you will find videos, pictures and written instructions.)
But too much mis-information floats around the web and elsewhere about huckleberry picking rakes. Rather than list all the reasons why huckleberry rakes are safe, I have prepared a mini-website that addresses those issues here: Huckleberry Picking Tool Myths.
Over the years, we have worked with Dr. Dan Barney — affectionately known as Dr. Huckleberry — who was the leading expert on huckleberries at the University of Idaho. He not only tested our rakes, he also endorsed them (info on the site noted above). Unfortunately, the UI closed his huckleberry project in Sandpoint a few years ago and he is else doing other plant related research.
Then only location we are aware of that bans the use of huckleberry picking rakes is the Gifford Pinchot National Forest in Washington. (There has been a report that they are also banned in some places in Oregon, but we have been unable to confirm the report at this time.)
The Forest Service Gifford Pinchot National Forest site is filled with interesting information on huckleberries such as:
- Changes in Washington law regarding the sale of Wild Huckleberries
- History of huckleberries
- Development of berry fields
- Safety while picking
- Questions and Answers about huckleberries
Should you decide to pick huckleberries (or any other berry or forest grown items) on forest service lands or national forests, I suggest you check with the local forest service office for details and regulations.
In the meantime, enjoy your berries!!
Posted April 22, 2010 By sandy
SANDPOINT — The University of Idaho’s Research and Extension Center here will be mothballed, according to staffers.
Dr. Dan Barney, known for his huckleberry research at the facility on Boyer Avenue, said he was told that the station where he has spent 22 years, will be shuttered as of June 30 in the face of university budget shortfalls.
“I was notified last Friday,” he said. “Our job here is to completely decommission the station and get it into some type of long-term storage situation.”
Read the rest of the story ….