General: Huckleberry Family (Ericaceae). Black huckleberry is an erect, deciduous shrub 0.1-2 m tall. The leaves, up to 5 cm long, are elliptical with a long pointed tip and a finely serrated margin. The bell-shaped flowers are creamy-pink, and are found singly on the underside of the twigs. The berries are large, spherical, sweet, and dark purple or black. In some forms the berries are covered with a waxy bloom; others have shiny dark berries.
Distribution: For current distribution, please consult the Plant Profile page for this species on the PLANTS Web site. Black huckleberry is found in thickets and on Montana slopes in coniferous woods at elevations from 1000-1800 m. It grows in sandy or gravelly soils, ranging from moist to dry growing conditions. Vaccinium membranaceum grows from British Columbia to Alberta and Ontario, north to the Mackenzie Delta area, south to California in the Klamath Range and North Coast Range, and east to Michigan.
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Regional Distribution in the Western United States
This species can be found in the following regions of the western United States (according to the Bureau of Land Management classification of Physiographic Regions of the western United States):
BLM PHYSIOGRAPHIC REGIONS :
1 Northern Pacific Border
2 Cascade Mountains
4 Sierra Mountains
5 Columbia Plateau
8 Northern Rocky Mountains
9 Middle Rocky Mountains
10 Wyoming Basin
12 Colorado Plateau
Occurrence in North America
Big huckleberry is a native, rhizomatous, frost-tolerant  shrub with stems ranging from 12 to 47 inches (30-120 cm) in height [64,74,106,162]. Leaves are alternate, elliptic to oblong , and small, ranging from 0.7 to 2.75 inches (1.8-7 cm) long [74,162]. Roots may penetrate to 39.4 inches (100 cm) of soil. Rhizomes are usually found within the 3.15 to 11.8 inch (8-30 cm) range of a soil profile . Largent and others  observed a minor occurrence of mycorrhizal symbiosis.
Catalog Number: US 887598
Collection: Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, Department of Botany
Verification Degree: Original publication and alleged type specimen examined
Preparation: Pressed specimen
Collector(s): M. W. Gorman
Year Collected: 1917
Locality: Steve Peak., Josephine, Oregon, United States, North America
Elevation (m): 1585 to 1585
- Isotype: Piper, C. V. 1918. Proc. Biol. Soc. Wash. 31: 75.
Big huckleberry has wide ecological amplitude , occupying moist, moderately deep, well-drained soils [64,120]. Big huckleberry is found on moderate slopes or benches, rocky hillsides, and avalanche chutes [65,98,122,148]. Big huckleberry is rarely found in valley bottoms . As an understory species, big huckleberry can grow beneath a partially closed forest canopy, or in sunny openings [54,64]. Big huckleberry has greatest potential on cool mesic sites with minimal overstory .
Soils: Big huckleberry prefers soils with a pH around 5.5 . Clay and silt content are usually low (under 40%) leaving soil with a fine, loamy texture . Relatively low concentrations of essential elements are required to sustain growth. Mesic and drier sites are preferred, although big huckleberry may inhabit soils with a wide range of available moisture .
In Montana, Goldin And Nimlos  evaluated big huckleberry presence in the Garnet Mountains in relation to soil physical properties. Big huckleberry prefers quartzite and granitic soils to limestone-derived soils possessing similar pH and gravel content. Quartzite soils resulted in the greatest coverage of big huckleberry, compared to granite and limestone derived soils:
|Relative Cover (%)|
|Average organic horizon thickness (cm)||4.0||2.3||4.0|
|Soil texture||loam||silty loam||sandy loam|
|Gravel content||very gravelly||gravelly to very gravelly||slightly gravelly|
|Calcareousness||none at surface, slight to strong at depth||slight to strong on surface, strong at depth||none|
Within sites, big huckleberry grew under Douglas-fir on limestone, limber pine on quartzite and subalpine fir on granite.
Aspect/Slope: Big huckleberry prefers northern aspects  although populations may exist on all aspects . Martin  observed big huckleberry to prefer moderate to steep slopes (25-40%). Gentle slopes were found to allow greater competition from other plant species.
Elevation: Elevation by geographic area is :
|California ||3,609 to 7,217 feet (1,100-2,200 m)|
|Montana||3,000 to 9,650 feet (914-2,930 m)|
|Oregon and Washington ||3,000 feet (914 m) to high mountains|
|Utah ||8,202 to 10,318 feet (2,500-3,145 m)|
Key Plant Community Associations
Depending upon environmental constraints/conditions, big huckleberry
may occur as a dominant understory species with Engelmann spruce
(Picea engelmannii), western larch (Larix occidentalis),
limber pine (Pinus flexilis), ponderosa pine (P. ponderosa),
lodgepole pine (P. contorta) [9,123], western white pine (P. monticola),
(Tsuga heterophylla) , and mountain hemlock (T. mertensiana)
. Pacific silver fir (Abies amabilis), subalpine fir (A. lasiocarpa), noble fir (A. procera),
white fir (A. concolor), grand fir (A. grandis), Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga
and western redcedar (Thuja plicata)  and are also dominant overstory species [49,63].
Common shrub associates include sticky flowering currant (Ribes viscosissimum),
mountain snowberry (Symphoricarpos oreophilus) [9,24], common snowberry
(S. albus), grouse whortleberry (Vaccinium scoparium), Cascade bilberry (V. deliciosum),
(V. parvifolium) , Utah honeysuckle
(Lonicera utahensis), bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) ,
fool's huckleberry (Menziesia ferruginea) [9,42]. Other common shrub
associates include white spirea
(Spirea betulifolia) [123,142], whiteveined wintergreen
(Pyrola picta) , pink mountainheath (Phyllodoce empetriformis),
Cascade azalea (Rhododendron albiflorum), Sitka mountain-ash
(Sorbus sitchensis), western moss-heather (Cassiope mertensiana), strawberryleaf raspberry
(Rubus pedatus), roughfruit berry (R. lasiococcus) , little
prince's pine (Chimaphila menziesii) , Rocky Mountain maple (Acer glabrum) [46,89], Pacific dogwood (Cornus nuttallii) , and Oregon-grape
(Mahonia repens) .
Forb associates include common beargrass (Xerophyllum tenax) [9,20,24],
Brewer's aster (Chrysopsis breweri) [9,24], pinewoods lousewort
(Pedicularis semibarbata) , fireweed (Epilobium angustifolium),
Sitka valerian (Valeriana sitchensis) , queencup beadlily
(Clintonia uniflora) , twinflower (Linnaea borealis), lupine
(Lupinus spp.) , Pacific trillium (Trillium ovatum),
and threeleaf foamflower (Tiarella trifoliata) .
Big huckleberry is well represented in subalpine habitats [14,53,112]. In mesic
subalpine communities, big huckleberry is a common understory associate of Pacific silver fir and mountain hemlock . Big huckleberry is an important
understory component of subalpine fir forests in the eastern Olympic Mountains,
Washington . Within the Cascades of Oregon and Washington,
big huckleberry frequently occurs on dry subalpine sites with beargrass [53,112].
Big huckleberry is a dominant species within fir/hemlock (Abies spp/Tsuga
stands in the Cascade Mountains, understory to Pacific silver fir, noble fir,
mountain hemlock, Douglas-fir, western white pine, and western redcedar .
Within fir/hemlock (Tsuga spp) understory communities in the Cascades of southern Washington,
big huckleberry is often codominant with common beargrass .
Big huckleberry is associated with cool western hemlock zones in the Mount Hood
National Forest, Oregon. It occupies a dominant understory status in the coldest,
driest portions of the western hemlock zone. When overstories are dominated by Douglas-fir and western hemlock,
common associates include little prince's pine and Oregon-grape .
Stewart  compared understory composition of Douglas-fir and western hemlock
stands in the west-central Cascade Range. Both stands were found on a southeast
aspect at 3,740 feet (1,140 m) with a 15% slope. Fire history, mean tree age, and
mean tree height were similar. Differences were in frequency
of canopy gaps: Douglas-fir at 9.3% and western hemlock at 1.3%. Big huckleberry
was more frequent and had greater coverage (p<0.05) in Douglas-fir stands:
|Cover (%)||< 1||3.3|
Rocky Mountain Region:
Big huckleberry is a dominant shrub species in subalpine fir forests of northern
Utah. Subalpine fir/big huckleberry habitat types are also described for
south-central and southwestern Montana, eastern Idaho, and western Wyoming .
In Montana big huckleberry is a major undergrowth component in pole stage
or older stands of Douglas-fir and subalpine fir . Big huckleberry is an
understory component of mountain hemlock communities in western Montana, in
association with common beargrass, grouse whortleberry and fool's huckleberry .
Big huckleberry is an important shrub species in climax Douglas-fir/ninebark
(Physocarpus spp.) habitat type, ponderosa pine phase in west-central
Idaho, and in the Rocky Mountain maple phase of Douglas-fir/Rocky Mountain maple habitat types
Big huckleberry is a frequently occurring understory species within the grand fir
mosaic of northern Idaho . Big huckleberry is uncommon in grand fir/Douglas-fir
stands in Montana and Idaho below 3,937 feet (1,200 m) and common in higher elevations.
Big huckleberry is a major understory species for grand
fir/western redcedar stands when grand fir is dominant, and almost unrepresented
below where western redcedar is dominant. Big huckleberry is
common in intermediate aged stands of subalpine fir and limber pine on open
slopes and within mature stands on mesic sites
In general, big huckleberry is dominant to grouse whortleberry at lower-elevation
subalpine fir habitats. At mid- and higher elevations, big huckleberry is generally
subordinate to grouse whortleberry, although representation is sometimes about equal .
Published classifications listing big huckleberry as an indicator or dominant species
are listed below:
Forest types of the North Cascades National Park Service Complex 
Preliminary plant associations of the southern Oregon Cascade Mountain Province 
Preliminary plant associations of the Siskiyou Mountain Province 
Plant association and management guide for the Pacific silver fir zone: Gifford
Pinchot National Forest 
Forest habitat types of northern Idaho: a second approximation 
Classification of montane forest community types in Cedar River Drainage of
western Washington, USA 
Subalpine plant communities of western North Cascades, Washington 
The forest communities of Mount Rainier National Park 
Natural vegetation of Oregon and Washington 
Plant communities of the Blue Mountains in eastern Oregon and southeastern
Plant association and management guide for the western hemlock zone: Mount Hood 
Plant association and management guide: Willamette National Forest 
Forested plant associations of the Olympic National Forest 
Plant associations of the Walloma-Snake Province: Walloma-Whitman National Forest
Forest habitat types of Montana 
Climax vegetation of Montana based on soils and climate 
Forest habitat types of eastern Idaho-western Wyoming 
The grand fir/blue huckleberry habitat type in central Idaho: succession and management 
Forest habitat types of central Idaho 
Plant association and management guide for the grand fir zone, Gifford Pinchot National Forest 
Habitat: Rangeland Cover Types
This species is known to occur in association with the following Rangeland Cover Types (as classified by the Society for Range Management, SRM):
More info for the term: cover
SRM (RANGELAND) COVER TYPES :
109 Ponderosa pine shrubland
110 Ponderosa pine-grassland
409 Tall forb
410 Alpine rangeland
Habitat: Cover Types
This species is known to occur in association with the following cover types (as classified by the Society of American Foresters):
More info for the term: cover
SAF COVER TYPES :
12 Black spruce
22 White pine-hemlock
201 White spruce
205 Mountain hemlock
206 Engelmann spruce-subalpine fir
207 Red fir
208 Whitebark pine
209 Bristlecone pine
210 Interior Douglas-fir
211 White fir
212 Western larch
213 Grand fir
215 Western white pine
218 Lodgepole pine
219 Limber pine
224 Western hemlock
225 Western hemlock-Sitka spruce
226 Coastal true fir-hemlock
227 Western redcedar-western hemlock
228 Western redcedar
229 Pacific Douglas-fir
230 Douglas-fir-western hemlock
237 Interior ponderosa pine
244 Pacific ponderosa pine-Douglas-fir
243 Sierra Nevada mixed conifer
245 Pacific ponderosa pine
Habitat: Plant Associations
This species is known to occur in association with the following plant community types (as classified by Küchler 1964):
More info for the term: shrub
KUCHLER  PLANT ASSOCIATIONS:
K001 Spruce-cedar-hemlock forest
K002 Cedar-hemlock-Douglas-fir forest
K003 Silver fir-Douglas-fir forest
K004 Fir-hemlock forest
K005 Mixed conifer forest
K008 Lodgepole pine-subalpine forest
K010 Ponderosa shrub forest
K011 Western ponderosa forest
K012 Douglas-fir forest
K013 Cedar-hemlock-pine forest
K014 Grand fir-Douglas-fir forest
K015 Western spruce-fir forest
K017 Black Hills pine forest
K018 Pine-Douglas-fir forest
K020 Spruce-fir-Douglas-fir forest
K052 Alpine meadows and barren
K093 Great Lakes spruce-fir forest
This species is known to occur in the following ecosystem types (as named by the U.S. Forest Service in their Forest and Range Ecosystem [FRES] Type classification):
FRES21 Ponderosa pine
FRES22 Western white pine
FRES24 Hemlock-Sitka spruce
FRES26 Lodgepole pine
FRES28 Western hardwoods
FRES37 Mountain meadows
Black huckleberry requires moist and acidic soils to become established. Vaccinium membranaceum is very difficult to establish.
Cuttings: Take cuttings from rhizomes in early spring or late summer and autumn. Dig up the rhizomes and cut them into lengths of 10 cm or longer. Place the cuttings in vermiculite at 21 °C. Once the roots are established and meristematic activity is initiated, the small cuttings may be moved to individual pots with a peat:sand soil mixture (1:1) potting soil. The soil should be kept fairly moist. When plants are the size desired, plant in soils that are fairly acidic, or add the peat-sand mixture to the soil before planting. Plants must be kept well watered to become established. Plants establish well in partial shade.
Seeds: Collect the berries in the fall and clean by running them through a blender with dull blades, straining the pulp with a sieve, and spreading them to dry on a paper towel. Most authors believe that the seeds require no stratification or scarification (Haeussler et al. 1990; Link 1993; Minore and Smart 1978). However, Albright (1996) found poor germination without stratification and recommends over-wintering of seeds in flats outside. Seeds germinate within 16-21 days of sowing. Germination percentages can be improved by sowing the seed on moist peat in a growth chamber at 18° C (for 12 hours a day) and 13° C (for 12 hours a day). Seven weeks after germination warm the growth chamber to 20 ° C (for 14 hours a day) and 14° C (for 10 hours a day). Fertilize the seedlings after they are 10 weeks old and transplant into a peat-sand soil mixture (1:1) in individual pots after 12 weeks (Minore and Smart 1978). The soil should be kept fairly moist.
Fire Management Considerations
In most areas, fire exclusion reduces big huckleberry populations over time. In Washington, a big huckleberry field of 8,000 acres (3,238 ha) within an old burn has diminished to 2,500 acres (1,012 ha), replaced by trees and brush after 40 years of fire exclusion . Repeated low severity burns may control competing vegetation, enhancing big huckleberry vigor . Franklin and Dyrness  attribute occurrence of widespread big huckleberry fields within the southern Washington Cascades to large and repeated wildfire.
The Gitxsan and Wet'suwet'en people of northwestern British Columbia used fire to manage big huckleberry fields. Burning typically occurred in the early fall, late August, and September. Late fall burns were specifically chosen to reduce fire severity and spread since fall frontal storm systems were likely to bring precipitation. Elders (women) decided burning time and scheduled fires during times they felt were prior to rainfall. Intervals between burns varied . Sahaptin and Chinook Native Americans started fires in the fall (end of huckleberry season) during periods when winter rains had begun .
In habitat types were big huckleberry is dominant, fires conducted when duff is relatively moist and not completely consumed result in heavy resprouts from rhizomes [39,118,127]. Low severity burning may stimulate lateral bud growth similar to pruning and assist in eradication of parasites . Burning that consumes large amounts of duff is most harmful to big huckleberry regeneration . Quantity of heat released by fire and relative amounts of duff and soil moisture are controlling factors .
In western Montana, spring burning is recommended to increase big huckleberry density within the Douglas-fir/western larch habitat type, except when lower duff and soil are dry . In moist Douglas-fir habitat types of Montana, where ponderosa pine and lodgepole pine are seral components, low severity burning in the early spring stimulates big huckleberry, increasing shoot density . In the Lolo National Forest, low and moderate severity surface fires increase density and nutrient content of big huckleberry in moist Douglas-fir and cool, dry Douglas-fir habitat types . In the Douglas-fir/big huckleberry habitat type, spring fires and moderate amounts of shade may enhance production of big huckleberry .
In the grand fir series of the eastern Cascade Range, 2 consecutive fires in short intervals favor big huckleberry over grand fir, and big huckleberry may share dominance with lodgepole pine after intense fires on moist sites . Dense stands of big huckleberry may not burn if fuels are limited, due to low flammability of big huckleberry foliage . Density of big huckleberry may be increased by low severity surface fires in subalpine fir/big huckleberry habitat type in northern Utah .
In sub-boreal spruce zones of British Columbia, postfire sprouting of big huckleberry occurs almost exclusively through rhizomes. Postfire recovery is slow in the 1st 10 years postfire . Likewise, in mesic and drier sites of the sub-boreal spruce zone in Canada, big huckleberry recovers slowly after fire .
Broad-scale Impacts of Plant Response to Fire
More info for the terms: adventitious, density, duff, fire exclusion, fire use, litter, prescribed fire, restoration, rhizome, severity, shrubs, wildfire
Low to moderate severity fire:
Big huckleberry showed good vegetative response in lightly
burned areas of western larch/Douglas-fir forests in
western Montana. The same result was seen in moderate fires top-killing the
majority of shrubs and consuming up to half of the litter .
A comparison of postfire big huckleberry sprouts was made after spring
(May-June) and fall (September-October) fires at the University of Montana's
Lubrecht Experimental Forest. The number of stems present before burns was closely
related to the number of stems postburn. Spring burns produced a lower
mortality of adventitious buds on rhizomes than fall burns. Moist duff and soil
present during spring burns served as a heat shield. Spring burns causing
rhizome mortality occurred only in areas with duff and soil of low moisture content.
Results summarizing the average stem number/meter2 on 9 sites are presented below
|Before Fire (1973)||1974 (yr 1)||1975 (yr 2)||1973-1974 change in stem # (%)||1973-1975 change in stem # (%)|
|Before Fire (1973)||1974||1975||1973-1974 change in stem # (%)||1973-1975 change in stem # (%)|
Moderate to high severity fire:
Doyle and others  evaluated plant species richness 17 years after the
July 17, 1974, Waterfalls Canyon Fire, in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming.
Big huckleberry dominated (30-36% coverage) the understory of adjacent unburned areas
with greatly reduced coverage (approximately 7%) in moderately burned areas and
almost no coverage in severely burned areas. Big huckleberry populations
were greatly reduced the 1st growing season following a high intensity fire
in the Payette River drainage near, Lowman, Idaho .
Big huckleberry showed no postfire re-establishment through seed after the
Sundance fire of 1967, a severe burn in northern Idaho .
In general, big huckleberry is slow to recover from moderate to high
severity fire. After stand replacing fire in upland Douglas-fir/big
huckleberry sites in Pattee Canyon, west-central Montana, big huckleberry
showed "slow" recovery. In severely burned ravines, big huckleberry sprouted
from rhizomes at depths of 3.5 to 6 inches (9 to 15 cm). Before
effective fire exclusion began in the early 1900s, fire return intervals
in the area averaged 15.8 years .
Vegetation recovery for big huckleberry after an August wildfire in Sleeping
Child Creek, Bitterroot Valley, Montana was slow; density and crown volume
showed little recovery after 4 postfire years :
Crown volume feet3/1,000 feet2
For further information on big huckleberry response to fire, see Fire Case Studies.
Hamilton's Research Papers (Hamilton 2006a, Hamilton 2006b)
and the following Research Project Summaries also provide information on prescribed
fire use and postfire response of plant community species including big huckleberry:
Plant Response to Fire
Big huckleberry is adapted to sprout after fire and is efficient in storing nutrients released from burning . Big huckleberry sprouts after fire from shallow and deep rhizomes [30,106] or root crown . Heat penetration into soil layers where rhizomes occur will affect big huckleberry's ability to produce postfire, vegetative sprouts .
In preferred habitats, big huckleberry will generally survive low to moderately severe fires, attaining prefire coverage within 3 to 7 years [19,25], with stem number and density increasing. High severity burns may result in moderate to high mortality  or greatly reduced sprouting . Moderate to severe fires on coarse textured soil or areas with a thin organic layer kill underground rhizomes, resulting in heavy mortality [25,130]. Strong decreases occur after severe broadcast burning and wildfire with recovery generally occurring within 15 to 20 years . Overall, low severity burns result in heavy sprouting from rhizomes .
Immediate Effect of Fire
Big huckleberry foliage is of low flammability. Individuals may survive low intensity fires  with top-kill occurring on more intense fires.
POSTFIRE REGENERATION STRATEGY :
Rhizomatous shrub, rhizome in soil
Foliage of big huckleberry is of low flammability, allowing for survival after low severity fires, with top-kill resulting from higher severity fires. Top-killed plants resprout from rhizomes.
The clonal habit of big huckleberry favors ecotypic variation among populations. Plants subjected to regular fire intervals may be better suited to surviving fire than individuals developed under fire suppression . Plants are consumed by fire only when adequate fuels are present to dry and preheat stems and foliage. Seed is not an important postfire recolonization method and is rarely found in postfire areas .
Historically, burning of big huckleberry patches by Native Americans was a regular activity in the subalpine zone of the Cascade and Pacific ranges. To enhance production, fires were set in autumn after berry harvest. Fires reduced invasion of shrubs and trees . Fields of big huckleberry in the Pacific Northwest are considered a product of uncontrolled wildfires occurring before effective fire suppression .
Western Montana: Cool habitats dominated by lodgepole pine, with big huckleberry as a plentiful understory species, showed high severity (stand replacing) fire return intervals of 150 to 250 years in past centuries . Lower subalpine stands in the Bitterroot National Forest, including stands in the Douglas-fir/big huckleberry habitat type, common beargrass phase, showed mean intervals between surface fires ranging from 17 to 28 years with a range of 3 to 67 years. At lower elevations, on montane slopes including stands in the Douglas-fir/big huckleberry habitat type, mean fire return intervals ranged from 7 to 19 years with a range of 2 to 48 years . About 60% of mature subalpine fir/common beargrass stands in western Montana show evidence of surface fire .
Northern Idaho: Dry, lower subalpine fir habitat types where big huckleberry occurs show historic intervals between low to moderate severity fires averaging 35 years. Stand replacing fires occurred at average intervals >217 years. Severe fires occurred at intervals of 60 to 70 years in cold, dry grand fir habitats where big huckleberry is a dominant species .
Mixed conifer forests of the grand fir series within the Elkhorn Mountains of Oregon showed historic fire return intervals of 50-200 years on sites where big huckleberry is the dominant understory species . The Douglas-fir forests of the eastern Cascade Range possess longer fire return intervals and higher fire intensities where big huckleberry is present than where big huckleberry does not occur .
The following table provides some fire regime intervals where big huckleberry is found:
|Community or Ecosystem||Dominant Species||Fire Return Interval Range (years)|
|silver fir-Douglas-fir||Abies amabilis-Pseudotsuga menziesii var. menziesii||> 200|
|grand fir||Abies grandis||35-200|
|western larch||Larix occidentalis||25-100|
|Engelmann spruce-subalpine fir||Picea engelmannii-Abies lasiocarpa||35 to > 200|
|whitebark pine*||Pinus albicaulis||50-200|
|Sierra lodgepole pine*||Pinus contorta var. murrayana||35-200|
|Pacific ponderosa pine*||Pinus ponderosa var. ponderosa||1-47|
|Rocky Mountain ponderosa pine*||Pinus ponderosa var. scopulorum||2-10|
|Rocky Mountain Douglas-fir*||Pseudotsuga menziesii var. glauca||25-100 |
|coastal Douglas-fir*||Pseudotsuga menziesii var. menziesii||40-240 [8,114,128]|
|California mixed evergreen||Pseudotsuga menziesii var. menziesii-Lithocarpus densiflorus-Arbutus menziesii||35|
|western redcedar-western hemlock||Thuja plicata-Tsuga heterophylla||> 200|
|western hemlock-Sitka spruce||Tsuga heterophylla-Picea sitchensis||> 200|
|mountain hemlock*||Tsuga mertensiana||35 to > 200 |
More info for the terms: climax, frequency, presence, shrub, succession
Big huckleberry may occur in early or late seral stages [32,69,99]. It generally shows greatest productivity within sites that experienced disturbance about 50 years previously . Hamilton and Yearsley  describe big huckleberry as a "fairly shade-tolerant" species.
Fields dominated by big huckleberry are seral.
Decline of big huckleberry as forests move toward climax status is inevitable, especially in areas of crown closure . Without disturbance, big huckleberry will gradually decrease in dominance, crowded out by trees .
Early seral: In spruce-fir forests big huckleberry may have a significant presence within 1 to 5 postdisturbance years . Response varies greatly with intensity of disturbance. In a spruce-fir forest in Idaho, big huckleberry was not a dominant shrub until 40-79 years after clear cutting, sharing understory dominance with wild ginger (Asarum caudatum) in sites undisturbed for 80 years or longer .
Habeck  observed big huckleberry as a common understory component of pioneer and seral communities within cedar-hemlock habitats of Glacier National Park, Montana. Big huckleberry is also an early seral species in western redcedar-western hemlock forests of northern Idaho .
In grand fir habitats of north-central Idaho, big huckleberry may occupy an important role in early seral stages at high elevations on north slopes . Big huckleberry decreases as a major understory species of developing grand fir/Douglas-fir stands above 3,937 feet (1,200 m) in the Selway-Bitteroot Wilderness of Montana and Idaho as stands move toward maturity . Big huckleberry is well represented throughout all seral stages in grand fir/big huckleberry habitat types. Steele  presents a detailed model of succession in the grand-fir/big huckleberry habitat type.
In subalpine prairies of the Mount Hood area, Oregon, big huckleberry is an early seral plant species . Big huckleberry is greater in frequency and coverage in open stands of mountain hemlock and Pacific silver fir associations and decreases as stands close .
Late seral: Big huckleberry is a widespread understory dominant in late seral and climax communities in subalpine forests . Within Montana, northern Idaho, and eastern Washington habitat types, big huckleberry generally shows a slow recovery increasing toward a peak at 20 to 30 postdisturbance years .
Big huckleberry may reproduce through seed or by vegetative production from adventitious buds on rhizomes [80,140] and root crown . Reproduction through seed is rare under natural conditions. Populations are usually maintained through lateral expansion of vegetative clones [80,140].
Fruit production is not halted during dry summers. Fructification may occur after 4 to 6 months void of rain . In the southern Washington, Cascade Mountain region, individual stems are capable of producing fruit for 14 years . Although berry production is moderately tolerant of moisture deficits, successful germination and subsequent establishment is extremely reduced or eliminated by water stress. Cool spring temperatures also negatively affect seed germination .
Establishment through seed is not heavily relied upon after disturbance. Number of seedlings emerging from soil blocks collected from a western hemlock/Pacific rhododendron (Rhododendron macrophyllum)/dwarf Oregon-grape community was monitored after experimentally applied disturbance. Big huckleberry showed no regeneration from seed after burning and mechanical mixing of soil layers .
Big huckleberry offers a relatively minor contribution to soil seed banks. Viable seed most often occurs within the 1st 2 inches (5cm) of soil. Kramer and Johnson  evaluated the soil seed banks of Douglas-fir/ninebark habitat type; grand-fir/Rocky Mountain maple habitat type; and grand-fir/big huckleberry habitat types in central Idaho. The constancy (%) of viable, buried, big huckleberry seed, by habitat type is summarized below:
|Douglas-fir/ninebark||Grand fir/Rocky Mountain maple||Grand fir/big huckleberry|
Vegetative: Big huckleberry possesses an extensive system of rhizomes [64,106], with adventitious buds distributed evenly along the length of the rhizome . Vegetative production is relied upon highly for regeneration after disturbance . Fruit productivity is more sensitive to solar radiation than vegetative production .
Growth Form (according to Raunkiær Life-form classification)
More info for the terms: geophyte, phanerophyte
RAUNKIAER  LIFE FORM:
Life History and Behavior
More info for the term: phenology
Growth of big huckleberry is fixed. Leaf primordia are initiated prior to spring bud break. Seasonal growth involves shoot extension through internode elongation .
Throughout big huckleberry's range in Montana, flowering begins the 1st week of June with total floret development requiring 4 months (mid-July to October) . Gough  observed vegetative and reproductive development in the Lee Metcalf Wilderness, Montana, at 6,562 feet (2,000 m) with an 80-day growing season. Shoot growth from vegetative buds on stems began in mid-May. Buds on plants where the soil was still frozen showed no bud break. Vegetative buds on shoots greater than 0.08 inches (2 mm) diameter swell before buds on thinner, less vigorous shoots. Shoot elongation occurs until mid- to late June. Seasonal shoot growth is generally completed within a 4-week period .Drew  mapped the phenology of big huckleberry within the cedar/hemlock zone of Idaho. Onset of leaf fall was directly related to limitations in soil moisture availability. Bud burst occurred early to mid-April followed by leafing out (beginning of May) and stem elongation (May-beginning of July). Leaf fall is initiated in mid-August .
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Barcode data: Vaccinium membranaceum
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Vaccinium membranaceum
Public Records: 1
Specimens with Barcodes: 3
Species With Barcodes: 1
National NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded National Status Rank: N5 - Secure
Rounded National Status Rank: NNR - Unranked
NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded Global Status Rank: G5 - Secure
Please consult the PLANTS Web site and your State Department of Natural Resources for this plant’s current status, such as, state noxious status, and wetland indicator values.
Cultivars, improved and selected materials (and area of origin)
This species is available at some native plant nurseries within its range. Contact your local Natural Resources Conservation Service (formerly Soil Conservation Service) office for more information. Look in the phone book under ”United States Government.” The Natural Resources Conservation Service will be listed under the subheading “Department of Agriculture.”
Huckleberry plants grow very rapidly in moist, shady conditions. If summer drought occurs, the plants should be watered so roots are kept fairly moist.
Traditional Resource Management: Management of this plant includes the following: 1) occasional burning to stimulate new growth; 2) pruning the branches after picking the berries to stimulate new growth and fruit production the next growing season; and 3) ownership of black huckleberry shrubs provides the basis for careful tending and sustainable yield of valued resources.
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Value for rehabilitation of disturbed sites
The Wind River Nursery  in Carson, Washington, provides suggestions for successful big huckleberry propagation. Initial planting is recommended in flats with subsequent transplanting of germinants to individual pots. Flats should be covered with glass or plexiglass to reduce soil moisture loss and placed in a cool location (large refrigerator or unheated greenhouse) to provide cool moist stratification. After stratification, flats should be transferred directly to heated greenhouse for germination. Seedlings should be hand transplanted to pots.
|Propagation method||Seed collection||Seed extraction||Stratification||Seed planting||Seedling container||Seedling media||Other treatment|
|seed||summer||mash fruit with water, separate||short/cool||tray||10-15 cm pot||Perlite/vermiculite/peatmoss |
|inoculation with mycorrhizae|
Flowering by new seedlings usually requires 3 growing seasons .
More info for the term: cover
Big huckleberry provides hiding or resting cover for several wildlife species. Dense thickets provide good cover for many smaller birds and mammals. Cover value of big huckleberry has been rated as follows for Wyoming :
|Small nongame birds||good|
|Upland game birds||good|
Importance to Livestock and Wildlife
Big game: Big huckleberry is a good food source for grizzly bears and black bears [34,161] and is a key food item for bears in Montana . Bears feed upon berries, leaves, stems , and roots . Big huckleberry is the dominant huckleberry species consumed by grizzly and black bears of Glacier National Park, Montana  and a major shrub food item in Yellowstone National Park . Bears may begin feeding upon big huckleberry berries in mid-July at lower elevations 3,000 to 3,937 feet (900-1,200 m) of Glacier National Park .
Big huckleberry is a minor component in the summer diet of western Montana elk . Elk feed on big huckleberry when leaves are young and tender . Big huckleberry also provides browse for moose in north-central Idaho .
Big huckleberry is an important species for white-tailed deer in grand fir and western redcedar forests of northern Idaho, with greatest use occurring in the fall .
Nutritional value of big huckleberry has been rated for Wyoming as :
|Upland game bird||good|
|Small non-game bird||good|
Light intensity (litter temperature of 150 degrees Fahrenheit (66 Â°C) at 1.9
inches (5 cm)) slash burning, after a clearcut in subalpine fir/queencup beadlily
habitat type composed largely of Douglas-fir and western larch, had no
significant effect (p> 0.05) on big huckleberry nutritional value .
Other uses and values
Big huckleberry may hybridize with Vaccinium cultivars, producing drought-resistant cultivars for the West Coast .
|Elk||fair to good||----||----||good||----|
|Small nongame birds||----||----||----||----||good|
|Upland game birds||-----||----||----||----||good|
Ethnobotanic: The nlaka'pamux of British Columbia, the Okanagan-Colville and Nez Perce of eastern Washington, the Plateau Indians of the Columbia River Gorge, the Kootenay of southeastern British Columbia, and the Flathead people of Montana (among others) really savored the black huckleberries (Turner et al. 1990; Hunn 1990; Hart 1976).
Traditionally, black huckleberry fruits were eaten raw and fresh, or were cooked, mashed, and dried in the sun as cakes. The Nez Perce boiled the dried berries before they were eaten. The Stoney (Assiniboin) sometimes mixed the berries in pemmican. Okanagan-Colville people used the ripening of black hawthorn fruits (Crataegus douglasii Lindl.) as an indicator of when black huckleberries would be ripe in the mountains. They ate huckleberries fresh with meat; partially dried
them, crushed them and formed them into cakes; or fully dried them. In British Columbia, the Kwakwaka'wakw cooked them with salmon roe and the Sechelt smoke-dried them, using black huckleberry branches as part of the fuel.
A first fruits ceremony or feast is held by many nations in the Pacific Northwest, including the Columbia Plateau Indians, the Umatilla, the Yakima, the Warm Springs, and the Colville Confederated Tribes. Huckleberry feasts are held in July or August, coinciding with the first berry harvest. A thanksgiving ceremony is held at this time, with gratitude expressed through prayer, dancing, and celebration. Feasts used to also be given at a girl's first berry picking or root gathering and at the first procuring of game by a boy. These generally occurred when the child was ten years old. At these feasts, they served food procured by the child along with other foods. The elders praised and blessed the work of the child, giving the child the power to become great and successful later in life.
After the huckleberry feast, the Sahaptin people of the Columbia Plateau would leave for a seasonal migration to the mountains to gather berries and to escape the summer heat. Special baskets, called "Klikitat baskets" of cedar root decorated with bear grass and bitter cherry bark, were used for berry picking. The surplus berries were dried slowly over a fire that was kept smoldering in a rotten log (Filloon 1952). This method of drying the berries preserves the bulk of the Vitamin C content in the fruits (Norton et al. 1984:223).
Each family from the Columbia Plateau area would gather four or five pecks (ca. four to five gallons) of dried berries for winter use (Perkins n.d. (1838-43), Book 1:10). Hunn (1990) estimates that there were 28-42 harvest days in a year. This resulted in a total annual harvest of 63.9-80.2 kg/woman/year from the Tenino-Wishram area, and 90 kg/woman/year from the Umatilla area. The net result was a huckleberry harvest yield of 31 kcal/person/day in the Tenino-Wishram area and 42 kcal/person/day for the Umatilla area (Hunn 1981: 130-131). Vaccinium species contain 622 Kcal per 100 gm berries, with 15.3 gm carbohydrate, 0.5 gm fat, 0.7 gm protein and 83.2 gm water (Hunn 1981:130-131).
Huckleberries are used for a lavender or purple natural dye in the twined corn husk bags made by the Nez Perce; the cornhusks are dyed with the juice of the berries. The Nlaka'pamux sometimes used the leaves in smoking mixture (Turner 1990).
Other Uses: Vaccinium membranaceum is the most highly regarded of the huckleberry species within its range, especially in British Columbia and neighboring areas (Turner 1975, 1978). People of all cultures love these huckleberries. Today, the berries are eaten fresh, baked in pancakes, pies, and muffins, canned, frozen, or made into jams and jellies. Berries are usually picked in late July or August. The leaves can be used fresh or dried to make a tea.
Huckleberry leaves and finely chopped stems contain quinic acid, a former therapeutic for gout said to inhibit uric acid formation but never widely used because of mixed clinical results (Moore 1979). The leaves have been widely used to lower or modify blood sugar levels, particularly in Europe. Taken on regular basis, huckleberry tea will gradually help alleviate both glycosuria and hyperglycemia and has a benign but useful effect as an adjunct treatment to diabetes mellitus.
Wildlife: Huckleberry fruits are an important food source for songbirds, gulls, cranes, pigeons, turkeys, and upland game birds. Many mammals, from black bears to mice, feed on red huckleberries. Herbivores graze on the entire plant; it appears to be a favorite browse of deer. Huckleberries and blueberries form a major part of the grizzly and black bear's diet in late summer and fall. Grouse feast on the leaves and blossoms. The fruits, twigs, and foliage are eaten by foxes, opossums, raccoons, squirrels, deer, moose, caribou, elk, pikas, cottontail rabbits, and skunks.
Vaccinium membranaceum is a species within the group of Vaccinium commonly referred to as huckleberry. This particular species is known by the common names thinleaf huckleberry, tall huckleberry, big huckleberry, mountain huckleberry, square-twig blueberry, and (ambiguously) as "black huckleberry".
Vaccinium membranaceum is native to western North America, with a range extending in the northern from southern Alaska and northwestern Canada to the northern mountains of California to the south. It can be found from the mountains next to the Pacific Ocean in the west, to the Rocky Mountains in the east.
Vaccinium membranaceum grows at higher elevations in subalpine and alpine environments. It occurs in both pine and spruce dominated forests and in open meadow ecosystems. In forests V. membranaceumoften dominates the forest understory during early to mid stages of succession. Vaccinium membranceum is fire adapted. The leaves and stems of the huckleberry are resistant to low-intensity fires, and if burned away they will resprout vigorously from rhizomes buried under the soil.
Vaccinium membranaceum is an erect shrub growing up to 1.5 metres (4.9 ft) in maximum height. The new twigs are yellow-green and somewhat angled. The deciduous leaves are alternately arranged. The very thin to membranous, oval leaf blades are up to 5 centimeters long. The edges are serrated, with each tiny tooth tipped with a glandular hair. Solitary flowers occur in the leaf axils. Each is around 6 millimeters long, urn-shaped to cylindrical, and pale pink to waxy bronze in color.
They are pollinated by bees. The fruit mature fruit ranges in colour from red through bluish-purple to a dark, almost black berry about a centimeter wide. Each fruit contains an average of 47 tiny seeds.
The plant rarely reproduces via seed, rather, it usually spreads by cloning itself from its rhizome or shoots. The seeds do germinate if dispersed by animals, however, as evidenced by populations of the plant growing on the recovering section of Mount St. Helens. Other than the study by Yang et al. (2008) reports of V. membranaceum sprouting from seed are quite rare with other scientists who have studied this species reporting only 6 seedlings observed during 18 years in the field.
Vaccinium membranaceum is this species that is the most commonly collected of all of the wild western huckleberries, and it has great commercial importance. In a good year Vaccinium membranaceum shrubs produce a lot of fruit. The amount of fruit produced by these shrubs is legendary, with stories being told of mountain sides turned purple by all of the fruit, or shrubs being weighed to the ground by large, and abundant berries 
- Native Americans
Both humans and wildlife enjoy feasting on this fruit in the late summer and early fall. People have been eating the fruit of this species for thousands of years. It was and continues to be widely used for food by Native Americans. The Kutenai called the black huckleberry shawíash (Ktunaxa: ǂawiyaǂ). Alaska Natives consumed it in bread and pies as a source of vitamin C, the Coeur d'Alene people ate the fruit fresh, dried, mashed, cooked, and added it to soup or froze it for later use, and many other groups relished it and stored it frozen, dried, pressed into cakes, or canned for winter use.
The plant also provides a key food source for black and grizzly bears, which eat the leaves, stems, roots, and fruit. Elk, moose, and white-tailed deer also browse the plant. The thickets provide cover for many species of small animals.
Some Native American groups lit carefully planned controlled burns in wild huckleberry patches to promote fruit production by eliminating competing plants and by stimulating the huckleberry to sprout and spread. Native American groups throughout the Pacific Northwest still utilize this plant as an important cultural food and are active in its management.
- Gaylussacia baccata — with "black huckleberry" as its common name also.
- VanderKloet, Sam (1988). The Genus Vaccinium in North America. Ottawa, ON: Research Branch, Agriculture Canada.
- US Forest Service Fire Ecology
- Yang, S., et al. (2008). Colonization genetics of an animal-dispersed plant (Vaccinium membranaceum) at Mount St Helens, Washington. Molecular Genetics 17:3 731-40.
- Stark and Baker (1992). The Ecology and Culture of Montana Huckleberries: A guide for growers and researchers. Missoula, MT: University of Montana, School of Forestry.
- Flora of North America
- Bowen, Asta (1988). The Huckleberry Book.
- "FirstVoices- Ktunaxa. Plants: food plants: words.". Retrieved 2012-07-07.
- Netstate: Idaho State Fruit
- Martin, L. P., et al. (2008). Management and monitoring plan for the enhancement of big huckleberry in Government Meadows, Mt Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. USDA Forest Service.
Names and Taxonomy
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