California Huckleberry

Vaccinium ovatum

California Huckleberry

Vaccinium ovatum

California Huckleberry is beloved in the SLV, as seen by the fact that Felton and Boulder creek have streets named after it, and of course, there is Huckleberry Island in Brookdale.

In the SLV, it tends to prefer sunlit edges and clearings in partial shade, with 4–6 hours of exposure to full sun providing the best fruit production. Sufficient sun exposure also triggers the initiation of new flower buds for the next growing season.

Planting Tips         

  • Huckleberry does not always transplant from the wild successfully.
  • When digging a hole, dig it deep enough to drop a large piece of rotting wood or decomposing bark in first. This rotting wood absorbs water during the rainy season allowing roots and mycelium to access this moisture during the subsequent dry season.
  • Cover over with a few inches of soil.
  • The backfilling soil should not be amended.
  • A 2–4″ top layer of mulch (leaves, redwood duff, or wood chips) applied after planting will continue to improve the soil from above.
  • It adapts to sandy and clay soils, but does not tolerate waterlogging or like dry soil.
  • It can reach 5′ in height and be 3–4′ wide in a soft mound

Pruning

  • Pruning of young plants is not recommended since it can damage them and stunt their growth.
  • Mature plants should be pruned sparingly to encourage new shoots. Occasionally, you might have to remove a dead branch to improve air circulation.
  • Other than this, you don’t have to worry about maintaining this native shrub.

Native Habitat

  • It is deer resistant and loved by bees.
  • Huckleberry is self-fertilizing, but it will produce more and larger-sized fruit when several are planted in the same area.
  • The fruit ripens in mid-summer, and if left on the bush, the migrating and resident birds, chipmunks, squirrels, foxes and skunks will happily eat them along with the berries of poison oak and honeysuckle.
  • It will re-sprout after disturbances such as fire.

Hedgerow

Huckleberry’s place in a hedgerow of native shrubs is not to be overlooked. Mature hedgerows of native shrubs provide:

  • Habitat for many native species
  • Nesting sites
  • Sustenance for pollinators
  • Fruits and nuts for local and migrating birds and fauna
  • Respite for native fauna
  • Privacy for homeowners

The first year it sleeps, the second year it creeps, and the third year it leaps

Huckleberry is slow growing occasionally, taking 3 years to take off. Still, this does not seem unreasonable, given patches can live for over one hundred years. Early plant energy is probably being directed to developing root systems. Once established in a favorable location, they are very hardy and drought tolerant.

As with most native plants, Huckleberry is best planted in the fall. Although they can be started from seed, the easiest propagation method is the air layering of lower branches. This approach allows for increasing the size of the patch more quickly.

Huckleberry is an understory plant of the mixed evergreen redwood forest. You may even come across it growing out of an old redwood stump. It is happiest growing alongside other native understory plants such as hazelnut, thimbleberry, and western sword fern.

Huckleberry was and is a culturally significant plant to many Native Americans who carefully cultivated it in the wild. They used the berries in every possible way, including fresh, dried, mashed, cooked and added to soup, frozen, pressed into cakes or canned for winter use. (https://nativefoodsnursery.com) These native berries are high in vitamins A, B, and C. They are also rich in antioxidants.

  • Note: Vaccimium ovatum may harbor Phytophthora ramorum which causes Sudden Oak death; use caution in planting this species with oaks or near oak woodlands.
California Huckleberry
Photo by John Rusk

Native Plant

Plant Category   Perennial shrub
Flowering Time   Spring, Winter
Fruiting Time   Mid-summer
Planting Time   Fall
Where to Plant   Edges or clearing in forested woodland
Soil and Light   Part Shade with 4-6 hrs of sun. Tolerates sand with low organic content.
Companion Plants   

Various Manzanitas

Coastal Redwood, Sequoia Sempervirons

Douglas Fi, Pseudotsuga menziesii

Bull Pine, Pinus ponderosa

Western Azalea, Rhododendron occidentale

Red Flowering Currant, Ribes sanguineum

Coral Bells, Heuchera micrantha

Yerba Buena, Satureja douglasii

Bush Anemone, Carpenteria californica

Salal, Gaultheria shallon


Wildlife   Hummingbirds Birds, Bees, Butterflies, Moths, +50 likely different species species