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Kinnikinnick plant with red berries

There’s something charming about kinnikinnick (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) also known as bear-berry.

In spring, the shiny green leaves conceal urn-shaped pink flowers. These give way in fall to edible (but bland tasting) dark red berries. The reddish brown branchlets have an attractive peeling bark while the whole plant takes on a purple cast in cold weather.

As the common name implies, bears relish the berries as do birds and other wildlife. The name kinnikinnick is said to be an Algonquin phrase meaning “smoking mixture” referring to the Native American traditional practice of smoking the dried leaves either alone or mixed with other plants, including tobacco and the dried inner bark of red osier dogwood (Cornus sp.).

Kinnikinnick can be slow growing and prefer a little afternoon shade but planted in a mass they will make beautiful carpets of rich evergreen color especially in the winter when little else looks so good. Their hardiness and deer resistance also make them a good candidate for “trailers” in cold season pots.

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