Thinleaf Huckleberry (Membranaceum)

The Thinleaf Huckleberry (Membranaceum) is generally described as a perennial shrub. This is native to the U.S. (United States) has its most active growth period in the spring and summer . The Thinleaf Huckleberry (Membranaceum) has green foliage and inconspicuous purple flowers, with a moderate amount of conspicuous black fruits or seeds. The greatest bloom is usually observed in the late spring, with fruit and seed production starting in the spring and continuing until summer. Leaves are not retained year to year. The Thinleaf Huckleberry (Membranaceum) has a long life span relative to most other plant species and a moderate growth rate. At maturity, the typical Thinleaf Huckleberry (Membranaceum) will reach up to 4.5 feet high, with a maximum height at 20 years of 4 feet.

The Thinleaf Huckleberry (Membranaceum) is usually not commercially available except under contract. It can be propagated by bare root, container, cuttings, seed. It has a slow ability to spread through seed production and the seedlings have low vigor. Note that cold stratification is not required for seed germination and the plant cannot survive exposure to temperatures below -38°F. has low tolerance to drought and restricted water conditions.

Uses of : Landscaping, Medicinal, Culinary, etc.

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

General Characteristics

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.

Required Growing Conditions

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.

Cultivation and Care

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.

General Upkeep and Control

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.

Plant Basics
Growth Rate Moderate
General Type Shrub
Growth Period Spring, Summer
Growth Duration Perennial
Lifespan Long
Plant Nativity Native to U.S.
Commercial Availability Contracting Only
Physical Characteristics
Bloom Period Late Spring
Displays Fall Colors No
Shape/Growth Form Multiple Stem
Drought Tolerance Low
Shade Tolerance Intermediate
Height When Mature 4.5
Vegetative Spread Slow
Flower Color Purple
Flower Conspicuousness Yes
Fruit/Seed Abundance Medium
Fruit/Seed Seasonality Spring Summer
Seed Spread Rate Slow
Gardening Characteristics
Propagations (Ways to Grow) Bare Root, Container, Cuttings, Seed
Moisture Requirements Low
Cold Stratification Required Yes
Minimum Temperature -38
Soil Depth for Roots 12
Toxic to Nearby Plants No
Toxic to Livestock No
After-Harvest Resprout Ability Yes
Responds to Coppicing No
Growth Requirements
pH Range 4.5–5.6 pH
Precipitation Range 10–10 inches/yr
Planting Density 1700–2700 indiv./acre
Soil Textures Coarse, Medium
Soil Depth for Roots 12
Minimum Frost-Free Days 85 day(s)
Salinity Tolerance None
CaCO3 Tolerance None
Sustainability & Use
Leaf Retention No
Palatability Medium
Fire Resistant No
Causes Livestock Bloating None

Source: USDA, NRCS, PLANTS Database,
National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA