Native Plants: Kinnikinnick, aka. bearberry

Pearl Lorentzen
Lakeside Leader

There are many native plants growing in the bush near Lesser Slave Lake and even within the parks in town. Studies have shown that including native plants when gardening can help wildlife. Also, it is useful to know a bit about plants when walking in nature, so this year The Leader will have a ‘Native Plant’ feature. Last year, we had a feature called ‘It’s a Weed’ about invasive species. These are still available on lakesideleader.com and were based on information from https://abinvasives.ca/.

One of the berries blooming on May 23 in Lesser Slave Lake provincial park was kinnikinnick.

The word kinnikinnick is likely from the Algonquin word meaning ‘smoking mixture,’ says the Kinnikinnick Native Plant Society of northern Idaho. Scholars believe that the plant was native to the area, but the name was brought west during the fur trade.

The scientific name is Arctostaphylos uva-ursi, says the Canadian Wildlife Federation (CWF). It is found in all Canadian provinces and territories from sea level to subalpine.

In Latin, ursi is the plural form of bear (ursa).

CWF says, “Bearberry is a great wildlife plant. It provides nectar, which has been known to attract butterfly caterpillars, butterflies and hummingbirds.

“Its leaves are eaten by many mammals including deer, elk, bighorn sheep and moose, and it acts as a larval food plant for some butterfly species. Bearberry fruit is eaten by birds such as thrushes, wrens, grouse, robins and waxwings. Other animals that use the fruit as a winter food source are bears, deer and small mammals.”

If gardeners want to add it to their yard, kinnikinnick likes partial shade and acidic soil, so grows well under pine trees, says CWF. “Bearberry is supposed to be rather challenging to grow on your own, so this is one plant that is best to buy from the nursery.”

Cwf-fcf.org has native plant supplier lists by province. At least one Treetime.ca out of Edmonton sells bearberry, but as of the end of May it was sold old out.

Kinnikinnick, also called bearberry.

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