Black Huckleberry produces a sweet purple-black berry, highly prized for both fresh eating and cooking/preserving. Summer in the Northwest isn't complete without a huckleberry milkshake or cobbler. And the joy continues into Fall/Winter with huckleberry jams, frozen berries, fruit leathers, and dried huckleberry "raisins".
What's more, the berries are a native food high in vitamins A, B, and C. They are also rich in antioxidants and can improve blood circulation!
NOTE: Being a wild plant, fruit production and growth speed is significantly lower than a cultivated Blueberry bush. Grown from wild seed, they have a wide genetic diversity, and are known to be variable in their flavor, production, and site preferences. Due to lower yields than cultivated berries, expect to need 3 to 4 times the bushes for the same harvest.
Some do fine at lower elevations, others prefer higher elevation for fruiting. Some reports indicate that lower elevation fruits have less flavor. Research is underway to cultivate a highly-productive, fast-growing, low-elevation cultivar, but it is still many years out. We'll definitely carry it when it's ready!
The Black Huckleberry has elegant, thin, oval leaves that metamorphize from a translucent green into spectacular reds and purples as fall comes down. They have modest, urn-shaped, creamy pink flowers that bloom in the late spring. Their bark is yellow-green when young, maturing into a shredded grayish coloration with age.
They can be grown well under the California Foothill Pine since it does not cast much shade. They will also grow well paired with any of the acid loving ferns like The Ostrich Fern or The Spreading Wood Fern. For an ornamental companion consider the acid loving Blue Blossom Ceanothus - just make sure that it doesn’t block your Huckleberries' sunshine.
Environment and Culture
The Black Huckleberry can be found in moist, conifer-pine dominated forests, as well as alpine and sub-alpine meadows across the Northern USA and Canada. They spread primarily from rhizomes, patches living over one hundred years old. When young, however, they are a favorite snack for deer, as well as an important food source for many mammals and birds. To secure some berries for you, they need to be protected from browsing with fencing or netting. Once established in a favorable location they are very hardy and drought tolerant.
The Black Huckleberry was and is a culturally significant plant to many Native Americans who carefully cultivated it in the wild. They used the berries in every possible way including fresh, dried, mashed, cooked and added to soup, frozen, pressed into cakes, or canned for winter use. Despite great cultural losses, they continue to work towards stewarding and restoring wild populations of Vacciniums throughout the region, both strengthening the integrity of the ecology and sustaining their cultural heritage and wisdom. These strong and recovering peoples and plants deserve our respect, gratitude, and reparations. (Learn more & how to help on our Charitable Giving page.)
Harvest, Care, and Preparation
Wild vacciniums are notoriously challenging to grow, but many of us can't help but try anyway! They are slow-growing and need careful attention during establishment. They thrive in acidic, well drained soils, and seem to taste and produce best in 60-70% sunshine. We recommend mixing well-decomposed bark or wood into the planting hole (some folks even bury entire rotting logs underneath them).
Also, the roots of the huckleberry are sensitive to compaction. Plant them away from pathways, and keep soil mulched.
Summer watering will produce bigger berries. Harvest the berries in late summer-fall when they have fully ripened. They will be fully purple-black and firm, but with a little give. Due to lower yields than cultivated berries, expect to need 3 to 4 times the bushes for the same harvest.
If you have a large bird population, plants can be covered with netting to keep the birds from eating all the berries. The berries are superior to cultivated blueberries in taste, although they are slightly smaller and less productive. Use them in anyway you might use a blueberry - fresh, frozen, dried, in jams, cobblers, crisps, leathers, and more.
Native Range: CA, OR, WA, BC, ID, AK
USDA zones: 5-9
Ease of Care: Difficult
Deer Resistance: Low
Light Requirements: Full Sun to Part-Shade
Soil Type: Light-Medium, needs acidic, well drained soils
Water Requirements: Dry-Moist, very drought hardy after establishment.
Bearing Age: 2-4 years from establishment
Size at Maturity: 3-6 Feet
Plant Spacing: 3-5 Feet
Bloom Time: April-May
Harvest Time: July-August
Pot Sizing Guide
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