February 27, 2020

Hello, Kinnikinnick

Arctostaphylos uva-ursi

Arctostaphylos uva-ursi – Kinnikinnick | Photo courtesy of Glen Mittelhauser/Maine Natural History Observatory

If you speak Algonquian, then the title means something about a mixture that one smokes. Otherwise, it’s just a cool word and in this case refers to Arctostaphylos uva-ursi. If you speak Latin, you know there’s a bear involved. This creeping shrub is commonly known as red bearberry (the uva-ursi part) and is a member of the heath family. It is common in northern climes and in warmer areas is only found in high altitudes, growing easily in dry, barren soils. It can reach up to a foot in height, but its spread can be an impressive 15 feet. The leaves are leathery and the fruit is dry, making it slow to rot and providing food for birds and mammals over the winter months. Interestingly, this evergreen perennial “is the only Arctostaphylos species to occur outside of North America, ranging across northern Eurasia and across northern North America south to the mountains of Virginia, California, Arizona, and New Mexico, with isolated populations in the mountains of Guatemala in Central America,” according to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Wild Wednesday is a collaboration of Garden Maine and Glen Mittelhauser of the nonprofit Maine Natural History Observatory, www.mainenaturalhistory.org.