There are various huckleberry and bilberry species native to the Northwest. Several types are shown below:
Dwarf huckleberry, dwarf blueberry, dwarf bilberry, or dwarf whortleberry (V. caespitosum) is native throughout North America. The plants grow three to twenty-four inches tall and bear bright blue berries with excellent flavor. This species is adaptable and is found on dry or wet acidic sites from sea level to 10,000 feet. It can form extensive colonies. Although used for food and trade by Native Americans, commercial pickers do not presently target it due to small berry size.
Cascade huckleberry, Cascade bilberry, or blue huckleberry (V. deliciosum) is native to California, Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia in alpine meadows and subalpine coniferous woods at elevations from 2,000 to 6,000 feet. The plants grow six to thirty-six inches tall, although the procumbent canes can be six feet long or longer). The large, bright blue, glaucous berries have outstanding flavor and aroma due to high concentrations of esters and ketones. Yield potential may be low due to the fruit being borne only at the ends of the canes. Adapted to wet soils and often found at edges of ponds, Cascade huckleberry also grows on drier upland soils and can form dense heaths covering hundreds to thousands of square feet. The berries are very popular for commercial use, but the small, scattered populations limit available volumes.
Mountain huckleberry, mountain bilberry, black huckleberry, tall huckleberry, big huckleberry, thin-leaved huckleberry, globe huckleberry, or Montana huckleberry (V. membranaceum) is native to the northwestern U.S. and western Canada, with outcroppings in Arizona and Minnesota. The plants are usually found in coniferous woods from 2,000 to 11,000 feet elevation, primarily in or around clearings. Canes grow one to nine feet tall. The bushes are rhizomatous and transplant poorly from the wild. The berries are red, blue, purple, black, or rarely white and have good to excellent flavor and aroma. Named Idaho’s state fruit in 2000. The berries are harvested from the wild for commercial processors and represent the most widely harvested western huckleberry. Mountain huckleberry, mountain bilberry, black huckleberry, tall huckleberry, big huckleberry, thin-leaved huckleberry, globe huckleberry, or Montana huckleberry (V. membranaceum) is native to the northwestern U.S. and western Canada, with outcroppings in Arizona and Minnesota. The plants are usually found in coniferous woods from 2,000 to 11,000 feet elevation, primarily in or around clearings. Canes grow one to nine feet tall. The bushes are rhizomatous and transplant poorly from the wild. The berries are red, blue, purple, black, or rarely white and have good to excellent flavor and aroma. Named Idaho’s state fruit in 2000. The berries are harvested from the wild for commercial processors and represent the most widely harvested western huckleberry.
Bilberry, dwarf bilberry, dwarf huckleberry, or whortleberry (V. myrtillus) is native to North America, Europe, and Asia. It is found in open, moist, coniferous woods, usually above 2,000 feet elevation in North America. In Europe, this species grows to near sea level and often forms large, dominant colonies. Plants grow six to twenty-four inches tall. The berries contain antioxidants and compounds beneficial to human health and are popular in Europe for culinary and medicinal use. Not presently harvested commercially in North America, although it is harvested commercially from the wild in Finland and other European countries. Limited attempts have been made to grow the crop in cultivation. Commercial prospects for medicinal and nutritional supplement products may be promising.
Oval-leaved bilberry, oval-leaved blueberry, Alaska blueberry, or highbush blueberry (V. ovalifolium) is native across the northern United States, southern Canada, and parts of Asia and Europe from sea level to 6,500 feet elevation at the edges of forest clearings and under light to moderate canopies. The plants grow 1.5 to 12 feet tall. The berries are glaucous blue and rich in anthocyanins and antioxidant capacity. The flavor is mild to sour due to low esters and ketones, but the crop may have commercial potential for botanical extracts and nutritional supplements.
Evergreen, shot, or blackwinter huckleberry (Vaccinium ovatum) is native along the Pacific coast from southern California to Central British Columbia. This species is found in coniferous forests along roadsides and the edges of clearings. The bushes grow one to twelve feet tall and form dense stands. The stiff, serrated leaves make the plant commercially valuable for floral arrangements and foliage is harvested from wild stands. Evergreen huckleberry is occasionally grown on small farms along the Pacific coast. The black berries ripen late in the fall and contain very high concentrations of anthocyanins and antioxidants. Fruit yields are low. Adaptation to areas away from the coast remains to be determined.
Red huckleberry or red bilberry (V. parvifolium) is native to western Oregon, Washington, California, and British Columbia. Scattered populations have also been reported in interior and eastern British Columbia. This species grows from sea level to 3,500 feet elevation in and around clearings. The bushes grow from three to more than twenty feet tall. The red, waxy fruits were popular in jams and preserves with all coastal Indian tribes, although the flavor tends to be sour. Berries can hang on the branches until early winter. The fruit contains low concentrations of anthocyanins and low antioxidant capacity, although it is rich in p-hydroxybenzoic acid. Red huckleberries would probably be among the easiest of the western species to grow, but appear to be of limited commercial value, at this time. Given product development and creative marketing, however, commercially viable red huckleberry products may be possible.
Alpine bilberry, bilberry, bog bilberry or tundra bilberry (V. uliginosum) is native to North America, Europe, and Asia from 38o to 78o north latitudes and from sea level to 9,000 + feet elevation. This species grows on wet or dry, acidic, organic or mineral soils and is often found at the edges of lakes and streams. The plants grow from several inches to about 36 inches tall, bearing single berries or clusters of two or three glaucous, blue berries one-fourth inch in diameter. Flavor is good, but yields are often low. Alpine bilberry is harvested from the wild for domestic and commercial use in Asia and northern Europe. Some attempts have been made in Europe to cultivate the crop. Not presently a commercially important crop in North America.
All of the photographs on this page are the property of the University of Idaho. Danny L. Barney P.H.D, photographer.