The Black Mountain Huckleberry is a shrub that grows up to 5-6 feet in height. The shrub is fairly erect and its leaves are thin, elliptic and pointed at the ends. The fruit is dark purple or reddish-black in colour and are very tasty. The scientific name of the Black Mountain Huckleberry is Vaccinium Membranaceum and it is a part of the Vaccinium genus. It belongs to the Ericaceae Family which is a family of flowering plants. There are around 18 species of blueberries, bilberries and huckleberries in Canada that belong to the Vaccinium genus and all of them are shrubs with fruits which are black, blue or red in colour. All the shrubs in this family have edible fruits which have served as source of food and nutrition for Man & Wildlife for years.
It is found mostly in the Western and North-Western territories of North America. It is found usually in the sub alpine and alpine regions like Alaska, British Columbia, Yukon and sparsely in parts of the Northern mountains of California but is also found in small concentrations in the eastern states. It is also often referred to as Big Huckleberry, Mountain Huckleberry, Twin Leaved Huckleberry & Tall Huckleberry to name a few. The huckleberries found in the Eastern Huckleberries are often confused with these ones but they belong to a different family named- Gaylussacia.
They have a perennial life cycle and flower mostly in late summer and early fall. The plants prefer partial sun, average to dry conditions, and an acidic soil that is sandy or rocky.
The Black Mountain Huckleberry has been an important food for the Native people of the land who used it in their daily cooking as well as consumed it as a whole for nutrients and is still widely used today. The Kutenai, Coeur d’Alene and the Natives of Alaska consumed it in bread and pies as a source of vitamin C, the 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.
It is one of the major food sources for Black bears and Grizzly bears who eat the fruit, leaves, stem and roots of this shrub and it is speculated to serve as almost one third of the grizzly bear’s sustenance. Other animals that feed on the Black Mountain Huckleberry include elk, moose, birds, insects and some kinds of deer.
In recent times, a few native groups have taken an initiative to promote the production of these Huckleberries by performing ‘controlled burns’ which eliminate competing plants and maximise the growth of the Black Mountain Huckleberry shrubs.
• It is the State Fruit of Idaho.
• They are fairly well adapted to forest fires and begin to vigorously grow after a fire.