Bog huckleberries

Huckleberry is a name used in North America for several plants in the family Ericaceae, in two closely related genera: Vaccinium and Gaylussacia.


The name 'huckleberry' is a North American variation of the English dialectal name variously called 'hurtleberry' or 'whortleberry' (/ˈhwɜːrtəlbɛri/) for the bilberry.[1] In North America, the name was applied to numerous plant variations, all bearing small berries with colors that may be red, blue, or black.[2] It is the common name for various Gaylussacia species, and some Vaccinium species, such as Vaccinium parvifolium, the red huckleberry, and is also applied to other Vaccinium species which may also be called blueberries depending upon local custom, as in New England and parts of Appalachia.[2]


The plant has shallow, radiating roots topped by a bush growing from an underground stem. The berries are small and round, 5–10 millimetres (1438 inch) in diameter, and look like large dark lowbush blueberries.[citation needed]


Two huckleberry species, V. membranaceum and V. ovatum, were studied for phytochemical content, showing that V. ovatum had greater total polyphenol and anthocyanin content than did V. membranaceum.[3] Each species contained 15 anthocyanins (galactoside, glucoside, and arabinoside of delphinidin, cyanidin, petunidin, peonidin, and malvidin), but in different proportions.[3]



Wild huckleberry at Golden, British Columbia

Four species of huckleberries in the genus Gaylussacia are common in eastern North America, especially G. baccata, also known as the black huckleberry.[2]


From coastal Central California through Oregon to southern Washington and British Columbia, the red huckleberry (V. parvifolium) is found in the maritime-influenced plant community. In the Pacific Northwest and mountains of Montana and Idaho, this huckleberry species and several others, such as the black Vaccinium huckleberry (V. membranaceum) and blue (Cascade) huckleberry (V. deliciosum), grow in various habitats, such as mid-alpine regions up to 3,500 metres (11,500 feet) above sea level, mountain slopes, forests, or lake basins.[2] The plant grows best in damp, acidic soil having volcanic origin, attaining under optimal conditions heights of 1.5 to 2 m (5 to 6+12 ft), usually ripening in mid-to-late summer or later at high elevations.[2] Huckleberry was one of the few plant species to survive on the slopes of Mount St. Helens when the volcano erupted in 1980, and existed as a prominent mountain-slope bush in 2017.[4]

Where the climate is favorable, certain species of huckleberry, such as V. membranaceum, V. parvifolium and V. deliciosum, are used in ornamental plantings.[2] The 'garden huckleberry' (Solanum scabrum) is not a true huckleberry, but is instead a member of the nightshade family.[citation needed]

Distribution and habitat

Huckleberry grows wild in northwestern United States and western Canada on subalpine slopes, forests, bogs, and lake basins.[5]


Huckleberries were traditionally collected by Native American and First Nations people along the Pacific coast, interior British Columbia, Idaho, and Montana for use as food or traditional medicine.[2][6][7] In taste, they may be tart, with large bitter seeds.[citation needed] The fruit is versatile in foods or beverages, including jam, pudding, candy, pie, ice cream, muffins, pancakes, salad dressings, juice, tea, soup, and syrup.[2][7]

Attempts to cultivate huckleberry plants from seeds have failed, with plants devoid of fruits. This may be due to the inability of the plants to fully root and replicate the native soil chemistry of wild plants.[5][8]

In popular culture

Drawing of huckleberry

Huckleberries hold a place in archaic American English slang. The phrase "a huckleberry over my persimmon" was used to mean "a bit beyond my abilities". On the other hand, "I'm your huckleberry" is a way of expressing affection or that one is just the right person for a given role.[9] The range of slang meanings of huckleberry in the 19th century was broad, also referring to significant or nice persons.[10][11] The term can also be a slang expression for a rube or an amateur, or a mild expression of disapproval.[citation needed] Fictional characters including Huckleberry "Huck" Finn, from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876) and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884) by Mark Twain, and Huckleberry "Huck" Hound, an animated anthropomorphic Bluetick Coonhound created by Hanna-Barbera in 1958, have incorporated "huckleberry" into their names to indicate their rustic or insignificant nature.[12]

The huckleberry is the state fruit of Idaho and Montana.[13][14]

Country singer Toby Keith co-wrote a song with songwriter Chuck Cannon entitled "Huckleberry", about a primary school crush that turns into marriage later in life and they have three "little huckleberries" of their own, and is part of his album Unleashed (2002).[15]

See also


  1. ^ Cited as "U.S. 1670" in Onions, CT (1933). Shorter Oxford English Dictionary. Vol. 1 (3rd ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 930.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Barney DL (1999). "Growing Western Huckleberries" (PDF). University of Idaho. Retrieved August 12, 2014.
  3. ^ a b Lee, J; Finn, C. E.; Wrolstad, R. E. (2004). "Comparison of anthocyanin pigment and other phenolic compounds of Vaccinium membranaceum and Vaccinium ovatum native to the Pacific Northwest of North America". Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. 52 (23): 7039–44. doi:10.1021/jf049108e. PMID 15537315.
  4. ^ "Recovery: Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument". Forest Service, US Department of Agriculture. 2017. Retrieved 17 June 2017.
  5. ^ a b Simonin, Kevin A (2000). "Vaccinium membranaceum". Fire Effects Information System, US Department of Agriculture. Retrieved 27 August 2018.
  6. ^ Foster, Steven; Hobbs, Christopher (April 2002). A Field Guide to Western Medicinal Plants and Herbs. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. ISBN 039583807X.
  7. ^ a b Strass K (2010). "Huckleberry Harvesting of the Salish and Kootenai of the Flathead Reservation" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-09-04. Retrieved 2014-08-14.
  8. ^ Zaria Gorvett (17 September 2017). "The mystery of the lost Roman herb". BBC. Retrieved 27 August 2018.
  9. ^ "World Wide Words: Huckleberry". World Wide Words.
  10. ^ Gullible Gulls, Huckleberry, Jumbi, Wooden Nickels, Realtors, and Calling a Spade a Spade, The Word Detective, apparently based on the Dictionary of American Regional English
  11. ^ Huckleberry, Douglas Harper, Online Etymology Dictionary, 2001
  12. ^ Colwell, James L. (January 1971). "Huckleberries and Humans: On the Naming of Huckleberry Finn". Publications of the Modern Language Association of America. 86 (1): 70–76. doi:10.2307/461003. JSTOR 461003. S2CID 163179667.
  13. ^ "Idaho state fruit". State Symbols USA. 2023. Retrieved 9 July 2023.
  14. ^ Michael Anthony (11 May 2023). "Huckleberry named Montana's state fruit". KFYR.TV. Retrieved 9 July 2023.
  15. ^ Hudak, Joseph; Dolan, Jon; Bernstein, Jonathan; Martoccio, Angie; Grant, Sarah; Browne, David (February 6, 2024). "Toby Keith's Best Songs: 'Should've Been a Cowboy,' 'Who's That Man'". Rolling Stone. Retrieved February 7, 2024.