Vaccinium ovatum • Evergreen Huckleberry

Vaccinium Huckleberry コケモモ 苔桃 koke-momo

There are many huckleberry bushes throughout the Garden, but  you can observe them most easily while strolling past the Tea House Garden, as they are several of them interwoven into the outside hedge (mostly eastern facing, along W path, technically in area W).  In late spring (mid-may) their new-grown leaves are strikingly purplish-red, and if you look closer you will notice small clusters of tiny pink buds, opening to white speckled with pink, bell-shaped flowers.

The plant was featured in 2014 ‘Spring Bloomers’ training for SJG docents, and here is the text prepared by our Plant Committee:

Vaccinium ovatum •  Evergreen Huckleberry. Grows in Areas F, H, W, ZZE, ZZW.

Vaccinium ovatum is an evergreen shrub that generally grows 3′ to 5′ tall with slightly hairy stems. Leaf color ranges from bright green to copper bronze when developing, to reddish-purple when in full sun. Flowers are clusters of bright pink at the axils and develop into purple-black fruit which are edible with high acidity.

Vaccinium ovatum is part of the living fence surrounding the Tea Garden along with Buxus hybrid, Buxux sempervirens ‘Suffruticosa’ and Thuja plicata ‘Zebrina’

Vaccinium ovatum is native to the Northwest. Arthur Menzies first noted this plant in May of 1792 at Dabob Bay, on the Olympic Peninsula.

It was used by many of the Native American tribes of the Pacific Northwest both as fresh fruit and as dried berries. The Quileute name is to-wa-duk, while the Quinault call is sk’iuxsnil or winter huckleberry. The stems are browsed by deer and elk, the berries are eaten by black bear, grizzly bears and chipmunks, and the berries are also eaten by thrushes, towhees, pheasant and grouse. It provides habitat for nesting, hiding and resting birds.

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SJG • 5/10/14 – Vaccinium ovatum • Evergreen Huckleberry (center of the pic) on the NE corner of the Tea House garden hedge. Note the red new growth, commanding attention despite the red blooming azalea behind it trying to steal it.

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SJG • 5/10/14 – Vaccinium ovatum • Evergreen Huckleberry – bell shaped pinkish/white flowers and red new growth.

From Washington Native Plant Society: […] At a Glance: Bushy shrub with small shiny green evergreen leaves and small clusters of pink bell-shaped flowers. Height: Up to 4 meters (13 ft) tall. Growth Form: Shrub. Stems: Young twigs are slightly hairy. Leaves: Small evergreen, dark glossy green, egg-shaped with finely toothed margins, 2-5 cm long. Young leaves are red-tinged. Flowers: In small clusters along branches; flowers are bell-shaped, pink, to 8 mm long.

From King County, Native Plant Guide: Evergreen Huckleberry, Vaccinium ovatum

Butterflies, birds and berries, this shrub has it all! If you haven’t noticed it in the wild, you may have found it gracing flower arrangements with its glossy evergreen foliage.

Evergreen huckleberry can range in height form 2 -9 feet in height and does best in partially shady conditions, although it can be found in full sun to full shade. The small urn shaped flowers keep the butterflies coming. The flowers are followed in the fall with edible berries that provide food for wildlife and the hungry gardener.

Used near the back of a perennial bed, Evergreen huckleberry’s foliage provides a nice backdrop for showing off your colorful perennials. If you enjoy pruning your shrubs into gumdrops (not recommended), this shrub handles pruning well. Whether your garden displays a formal appearance or a wild side, evergreen huckleberry has a place in your yard. Evergreen huckleberry is readily available at many area nurseries. 

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