"Evergreen huckleberries are beautiful, delicious, and native - AKA why you should plant at least a few in your yard"
Whether in Portland or throughout the forests of the Pacific Northwest, you’ve probably seen them around. They’re lush, beautiful, and when you’re lucky they’re covered in tasty berries. I had seen them occasionally growing in people’s yards in Portland but my best encounter with the evergreen huckleberry was along the Oregon coast at Cape Lookout State Park. Dancing in the misty wind and among a plant community of sword ferns, salal, salmonberry, sitka spruce and others, the evergreen huckleberries looked right at home.
Berries for all
People of the Pacific Northwest have been living with evergreen huckleberries and eating their berries for years. Many Native tribes throughout the region, such as the Sechelt, Comox, Straits, Halkomelem, Salish, and Quinault have eaten evergreen huckleberries for generations. One traditional way of preparing them was to dry the berries in the sun or with smoke, mash them into cakes and wrap them in leaves or bark. These days you probably wont find any berries in stores, but that doesn’t mean they’re not delicious. They taste something like a blueberry, but are often smaller. Eat them fresh, frozen in smoothies, or cook them into preserves, or pies. The berries are high in Vitamin C and though I have not tried this yet, you can make a tea with the leaves to modify and stabilize blood sugar levels in the case of diabetes. According to the USDA, huckleberry leaf tea can also be used to address glycosuria and hyperglycemia.
Humans also aren’t the only animals that benefit from this awesome plants- chipmunks, bluebirds, thrushes, rabbits, and blackbears also happen to like their berries and their foliage is often browsed by elk or deer (although you probably wont see many elk in your backyard feasting on berries). What you may see are butterflies, hummingbirds, and bees buzzing around their pink flowers so it’s great alongside other plants that support local pollinators.
See you at the beach
Evergreen huckleberries (Vaccinium ovatum) are a member of the Ericaceae family, meaning they’re closely related to blueberries, rhododendrons, madrones, manzanitas, and kinnikinnick (an awesome plant family in my mind). Many of these plants are evergreen and are native to the Pacific Northwest. Ev hucks are one of the main colonizing shrubs of the coastal sand dunes, so like many plants in the Ericaceae family, they thrive in relatively infertile, acidic soils that drain well. You can find them along the edges and clearings of coniferous woods, especially near beaches, on the west side of the Cascades from southwest British Colombia and down into California.
Growing evergreen huckleberries at home
Depending on your site’s conditions, evergreen huckleberries could be a great addition to your home landscape. When they’re really thriving they can grow up to 10 feet tall, although I haven’t seen them much past 6 feet. Because they’re native to the Pacific Northwest, they are well adapted to this bioregion and climate. This means they don’t need much maintenance and can do well as long as you plant them in the right place. They thrive in sun or shade but generally prefer moist soils and part shade - in the wild you’ll often find them in the understory of a forest rather than out in the open heat. Because they prefer moist and shady conditions, make sure to water them during summer drought. They do best in well draining, slightly acidic soils so if you need to improve drainage and make your soil more acidic, you can amend the soil with organic matter and peat moss.
If you’re looking for a plant that looks great year round, produces delicious berries, requires little maintenance, supports local pollinators and birds, can be used as a medicinal tea, AND is native to the Pacific Northwest, then look no further. Evergreen huckleberries can do it all. Get in touch and we’ll help you bring your yard to life.