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sam_md

BEARBERRY

sam_md
7 years ago

Gray's Manual describes Archtostaphylos uva-ursi as a "trailing shrub" and that's good enough for me. It's a broad-leaved evergreen member of the heath family and hugs the ground to form a carpet. Being a nice day we decided to run up to the New Jersey Pine Barrens, this time of year no mosquitos, no rattlesnakes. There we found bearberry along Route 72 just past the intersection of 563. It was on both sides of the road. One side was shaded by pitch pine, the other side full sun.


It grows happily there in a mixture of sand and gravel. The barrens are a great place for studying the heath family, there are countless species that benefit from the mycorrhizal association which is necessary to exist in this nutrient-poor soil.

Notice the teaberry mixed in with bearberry. The red berries of bearberry have lost much of their color I presume because of the cold. Each berry contains one, large seed. Interesting how bearberry favors the roadbank, apparently no problems from road salt.

Bearberry is not listed in my state's flora and found in only one location in Virginia's Shenandoah National Park. I have only seen it used in a cultivated planting twice. It is available in the wholesale trade. Clearly it will not tolerate heavy, water-retentive soil. Also it cannot handle competition from other plants. Do you have this species in a garden setting? If not, why not?

Comments (33)

  • laceyvail 6A, WV
    7 years ago

    I am in southeastern WV with sandy, acid soil and I have a huge bearberry that I planted some years ago. It's thick, healthy, weed suppressing (and highly deer resistant), not to mention handsome, but in all these years I have never had a single berry. I am convinced that these plants are not self fertile and must have another clone somewhere nearby to produce berries.

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  • NHBabs z4b-5a NH
    7 years ago

    I tried several in various spots around my property perhaps 15 years ago and none survived even though they were grown from a Maine population. I've used cranberry more successfully. I don't know what it is that they didn't like about my soil or gardens, or if they are just popular with the voles which are a constant issue.

  • gardengal48 (PNW Z8/9)
    7 years ago

    As Embo mentioned, this is a stock groundcover item in this areas and is planted extensively. In fact, kinnikinnick (as it is known here) and Cotoneaster dammeri (which is more usually referred to here as bearberry) are the largest selling groundcovers at my nursery by a very wide margin.

  • maackia
    7 years ago

    I haven't tried it, but I'd think it would do reasonably well our well-drained, acid soils. I really can't say why I haven't tried it, but you've piqued my interest.

  • Embothrium
    7 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    It's a manzanita, albeit a much more widespread one than usual. But both wild colonies and artificial plantings here show the same tendency to want to grow out over hot, barren soils, migrate away from shading as patch in above pictures may be demonstrating. Local plantings are pretty consistent about being quite blackened where shaded and cleaner where the exposure is more favorable - within the same planting.

    The upright manzanita native here is also a disease magnet. So much so that it remains scarce in commerce, despite a demand from contractors trying to meet specifications for large scale re-vegetation projects. This and the prostrate species are (apparently) sufficiently close genetically that they rather often cross to produce an intermediate hybrid which is also grown and sold by nurseries.

  • wisconsitom
    7 years ago

    Might work for you maack, not for me over in limey east-central.

  • maackia
    7 years ago

    The more I think about it, the more I think it would work here. We've got Gaultheria procumbens growing wild, which is also in the heath family. I only find it in a woodland setting, but you'd think the two plants would have some overlap. Sam, did you happen to see any Gaultheria during your trip to the Barrens?

  • NHBabs z4b-5a NH
    7 years ago

    Gaultheria in photo with hat. I have Gaultheria, but it didn't make my Arctostaphylos uva-ursi any happier. I have well-drained acid fine sandy loam.

  • maackia
    7 years ago

    Missed that! Yeah, I should probably just enjoy the wild Gaultheria. Do you ever see Lycopodium? Seems to like similar conditions as Gautheria.

  • NHBabs z4b-5a NH
    7 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Yup, I have Lycopodium, partridge berry/Mitchella repens, a few kinds of native sedges/Carex and ferns, and low bush blueberries/Vaccinium as other groundcovers that occur on their own in conjunction with the wintergreen/Gaultheria.

    Arctostaphylos uva-ursi is a great plant - go ahead and try it and report back if you are more successful than I was.

  • sam_md
    Original Author
    7 years ago

    laceyvail wrote I am convinced that these plants are not self-fertile ....

    I can agree with that. HERE is an American Nurseryman article about another member of the Heath Family, Gaylussacia brachycera or Box Huckleberry. I've seen the colony at New Bloomfield PA which covers several acres. It is one clone which has steadily advanced for centuries. It seems that plants like this are perfectly happy living a "celibate" life.

  • gardengal48 (PNW Z8/9)
    7 years ago

    Both the arctostaphylos and the gaultheria are self-fertile. In fact, the entire Ericaceae possesses perfect flowers so technically should all be self-fertile, although some are effectively self-incompatible and do benefit from cross pollination.

  • maackia
    7 years ago

    "...effectively self-incompatible..."

    That's just sad...

  • wisconsitom
    7 years ago

    Haha...not if its genetic recombinations you're after!

  • laceyvail 6A, WV
    7 years ago

    Well, mine must be "effectively self-incompatible" because not one single flower in over 12 years. The plant itself is at least 15 feet in diameter.

  • NHBabs z4b-5a NH
    7 years ago

    If your bearberry doesn't flower, there must be something else going on - perhaps some clones are less floriferous than others? Self-incompatible means no berries formed when it flowers since the pollen won't fertilize its own blooms rather than no flowers.

  • wisconsitom
    7 years ago

    Some plants developed mechanisms to inhibit self-fertilization. The evolutionary driving force appears to be the fact that populations of a given plant species tend to do better when genes are more regularly and thoroughly mixed up. If a plant merely self-fertilizes, you don't get that opportunity.

  • laceyvail 6A, WV
    7 years ago

    Oh, duh, didn't mean to write that my plant never flowers. It flowers beautifully, but never ever a single berry.

  • sam_md
    Original Author
    7 years ago

    The topic is an interesting one and probably worthy of a new thread. The box huckleberry that I mentioned earlier is estimated to be 13,000 years old making it easily the oldest living plant. It flowers profusely but does not produce fruit because it is a clone. Search Gaylussacia brachycera USNA Pooler - Dix if you want to know more. We talked about the same phenomena with pawpaw, large clonal colonies which seldom or never produce fruit. Maybe someone closer to New Bloomfield PA than I could go and take pix and make observations (Poakie are you listening?)

  • wisconsitom
    7 years ago

    " estimated to be 13,000 years old making it easily the oldest living plant"...... ...except that maybe some other clonal plant populations, like the big aspen patch in Colorado for one example....could also be of such great antiquity. And these are only known, identified examples. I seriously doubt-for example-that anyone has explored all the clonal aspen colonies in say....Upper Michigan.

  • Embothrium
    7 years ago

    Recently I saw a staggering age claimed for a huge old clonal aspen patch, something like 80,000 years.

    A wetland near me has an aspen or aspens that periodically topple into the water, then re-sprout instead of dying. At the moment where there had been a grove is now a few vertical trunks here and there. But the timing might suggest this is a new circumstance due to the installation of a housing development along and above one edge of the site.

  • gardengal48 (PNW Z8/9)
    7 years ago

    Yeah, the Pando aspen grove in Utah is generally recognized as being the oldest and the largest living organism on the planet. Although it may not hold these titles indefinitely - there's some thought the grove is slowly dying out.

  • Logan L Johnson
    7 years ago

    My neighbor across from me has some in a bed along with evergreen azaleas and chrysanthemums.

  • laceyvail 6A, WV
    7 years ago

    Some what, Logan? Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi), Gaultheria, aspens, pawpaws. What?

  • Logan L Johnson
    7 years ago

    The "some" is bearberry, obviously. This is a thread about bearberry, not gaultheria, aspens, and pawpaws.

  • sam_md
    Original Author
    7 years ago

    80,000 year old aspen grove, Remarkable indeed seeing how they would have been underneath a mile of ice at the time :)

    Recently my part of the country hosted their annual nursery trade show with 960 vendors. Wanna know how many were displaying bearberry??? Zilch, Nada, Nary a one. Its just not a plant seen very often around here. I've seen it only one time in a cultivated setting, along a govt building in DC where it grew happily. Undeterred by bad luck at the trade show I did in fact find a wholesale nursery in New Jersey with a beautiful supply of plants, not that it bothers me but this is clearly a clone, no berries.

  • Embothrium
    7 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    Yes the last ice sheet was only 10,000 years ago. However there are other species of cold climate adapted plants present in my State that are known to have retreated to mountain tops and lived there during the last glacial advance, then returned to other sites after the ice retreated.

    Bear-berry is an essentially northern plant, actually worldwide in distribution. Once you get far enough South it is going to start to be too hot for it in most locations. Because it is a heath the soil will often be too hot even if it might take the higher air temperatures.

  • Mike McGarvey
    7 years ago

    I don't think the continental ice sheets reached as far south as Utah, much less up in the mountains. Those ice sheets were in the lowlands. The mountains had their own smaller glaciers. The ice sheets gouged out Puget sound but left the mountains pretty much alone.

    Arctostaphylos uva-ursi is so common here it's quite often used in commercial parking strip planting areas as a groundcover. Here's some at the local auto parts store with Pieris japonica.

  • Embothrium
    7 years ago

    Heath family theme planting. Red pieris cultivar appears to be mixed with a white one as though the production facility planted more than one cutting in the pot (for density) and the varieties weren't kept straight.

  • Mike McGarvey
    7 years ago

    Yup, I'd favor that over a reversion, because they're almost equal in size.

    Mike..in for lunch.

  • Embothrium
    7 years ago

    Tips of the white look like it might be 'Mountain Fire'.

  • Mike McGarvey
    7 years ago

    Good eye! I hadn't noticed the red new growth down low on the right. Mountain fire is my favorite Pieris. I've even used it for hedges (unsheared, of course) because I propagated it so much from cuttings and had extras.