19 February 2010

Spotlight On...Bearberry

Arctostaphylos uva-ursi
Ericaceae (Heath Family)
What's in a Name?  
The scientific name of Bearberry is quite literal:  Arcto and ursi both mean "bear", while staphyle and uva indicate "grapes" (or berries).  Not surprisingly, bears are quite fond of this fruit!  Also known as Kinnikinnick, from an Algonquin word meaning "item for mixing in" (to a smoking blend).

Quick ID:  
Look for Bearberry growing in dense, trailing mats along the forest floor.  It's one of our few broadleaf evergreens, with leaves that stay on all winter.  The paddle-like leaves are small (1-3 cm), leathery, and dark glossy green-turning reddish as winter moves in.  
Dainty pink-and-white flowers cluster in racemes at branch tips.  
Fruits are bright red, appearing in late summer and hanging on well into the winter.  

Found on well-drained foothill, montane, subalpine and alpine sites from Alaska to New Mexico.  Click here for MT range map. 

Bearberry has been used as a food source throughout history.  The berries are dry, mealy and bland.  Bearberry tea is widely used for many medical ailments, most notably for treating urinary tract infections and kidney stones.  However, ingesting too much can lead to constipation, and extended use has been linked to stomach and liver problems (esp. in children) and uterine contractions in pregnant women.
Bearberry leaves are high in tannin and can be used to tan hides.

Wild gardening:  
An excellent groundcover, particularly for dry sites and steep slopes.  It is tolerant of heat and cold (Zone 2-8), drought, and sun or shade.  Long-lived but slow-growing, Bearberry has no serious disease or pest problems.  Berries provide wintertime forage for birds and other wildlife.  Flowers attract butterflies and hummingbirds.  The plant is a larval host for Rocky Mountain Clearwing (Hemaris senta) moths, Hoary Elfin (Callophrys polios), Brown Elphin (Callophrys augustinus), and Freija Frittilary (Boloria freija) butterflies.

Spotlight On... features Montana native plants that are currently on display in our natural areas.  Have a plant that you'd like to see featured?  Let us know!

No comments:

Post a Comment