Western Huckleberries and Bilberries
In western North America, the common names huckleberry, bilberry, whortleberry, and blueberry are largely interchangeable. It is not unusual for a single plant to be called by two or more of these names. It is also not unusual for a single plant to have many different common names. And contrary to some, these plants rate as true huckleberries.
Western huckleberries and bilberries are woody, perennial shrubs in the heath family and require acidic soils.
While western huckleberry and bilberry species are not threatened with extinction, they do represent a dwindling resource. These crops were historically and remain today very important to some Native Peoples in western North America. They have been harvested commercially from the wild in the northwestern United States for more than a century for culinary products.
Today, market demand is increasing sharply, nationally and internationally, for both culinary and nutritional uses. At the same time, harvests from wild stands have declined due to protection of endangered species, such as caribou and grizzly bear; forest management practices; and residential and commercial development. Increasing demands and declining wild harvests have lead to over harvesting in some areas. This demand, however, also creates opportunities for commercial production on managed forest stands and in field cultivation. Both production systems can provide economic benefits to rural areas hurt by declining logging, mining, and other natural resource industries. Producing fruits from managed stands and field cultivation can also help protect sensitive environmental resources now being threatened by over harvesting.
Mountain huckleberry, mountain bilberry, black huckleberry, tall huckleberry, big huckleberry, thin-leaved huckleberry, globe huckleberry, or Montana huckleberry (V. membranaceum)
Named Idaho's state fruit in 2000, the mountain huckleberry is native to the northwestern U.S. and western Canada, with outcroppings in Arizona and Minnesota. It belongs in section Myrtillus. The plants are usually found in coniferous woods from 2,000 to 11,000 feet elevation, primarily in or around clearings. Canes grow one to nine feet tall. The bushes are rhizomatous (grow from underground stems) and transplant poorly from the wild.
The berries are red, blue, purple, black, or rarely yellow to white and have good to excellent flavor and aroma and are harvested from the wild for commercial processors. This species represent the most widely harvested western huckleberry.
The Mountain huckleberry is the berries used in most Gem Berry jams, syrups and other wild huckleberry products offered on this website.
Information supplied by Danny L. Barney, Ph.D., University of Idaho, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Sandpoint Research & Extension Center.