Arctostaphylos uva-ursi



The Basics

USFS Plant Database

Kinnikinnick is a seral, shade-intolerant species often found in seral, open pine forests. It grows best in high light situations and becomes very rare when shade becomes intense. In the open, kinnikinnick forms a compact and intricate mat; under a canopy, long, thin trailing stems creep along the forest floor. Shoots are more upright under partial shade than in the open... Kinnikinnick pioneers on dry rock outcrops in the Pacific Northwest. It is an integral part of succession on dry, stable, sand dunes in the Great Lakes and along both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. On Lake Michigan sand dunes, it invades bunchgrass communities and thrives under slow burial by drifting sand that covers part of the plant.

Smoking the leaves as a tobacco substitute is the most widely mentioned human use of kinnikinnick. However, medical uses of kinnikinnick leaves were recognized by early Romans, Native Americans, and settlers. At the present, kinnikinnick leaves are used medicinally in Poland and many other countries. The most important medical use of the leaves is for treating urinary tract disease. They can also be used to make a highly astringent wash and as a vasoconstrictor for the endometrium of the uterus. Some Native American tribes powdered the leaves and applied them to sores. For medical use the leaves are best collected in the fall.

The berrylike drupes have dry, insipid, and tasteless flesh when raw but are useful emergency food. Native Americans fried them or dried them and used them in pemmican. The fruit is also used in jelly, jam, and sauces. In Scandinavia, kinnikinnick is used commercially to tan leather.

The currently accepted scientific name of kinnikinnick is Arctostaphylos uva-ursi (L.) Spreng.

Kinnikinnick is most often a dominant understory species in open pine forests under jack pine (Pinus banksiana), lodgepole pine (P. contorta), limber pine (P. flexilis), ponderosa pine (P. ponderosa) or pitch pine (P. rigida).

In British Columbia kinnikinnick indicates sites that are moisture deficient because of rapid drainage. (Plant Database)


Kinnikinnick is a prostrate, evergreen shrub that produces extensive trailing stems. The bark is thin and exfoliates in largish flakes. The leathery, dark green leaves are about 0.5 to 1 inch (1.27-2.54 cm) long. The flowers are borne in terminal racemes and are followed by bright red berrylike drupes, 0.25 to 0.4 inch (6-10 mm) broad. Each drupe contains five (sometimes four) single-seeded nutlets. (Plant Database)


Kinnikinnick is a host to yellow witch's broom, which also affects three species of spruce (Picea spp.) in Alberta.

Kinnikinnick is a sprouting species that is best suited to short fire cycles with low fuel buildup and low fire intensities. It possesses latent buds on the horizontal stems and dormant buds on the stembase or root crown that allow sprouting of surviving plants or rooted stems... When kinnikinnick is rooted in mineral soil, it can survive moderate fire. However, when kinnikinnick is rooted in organic soil horizons, a fire that removes those horizons will kill kinnikinnick.

The crown of kinnikinnick plants may lie just below the top of mineral soil, but as duff increases it migrates into the duff layer and becomes susceptible to fire. Kinnikinnick's main roots extend into mineral soil, but it has been considered to be incapable of regeneration from the roots if the crown is killed... Rooted stolons under rocks, moist logs, or in other protected microsites may also survive. Kinnikinnick plants are sufficiently resistant to ignition to inhibit fire spread in light, flashy fuel. (Plant Database)


The flowers are borne in terminal racemes and are followed by bright red berrylike drupes, 6-10 mm broad. Each drupe contains five (sometimes four) single-seeded nutlets.

The berrylike drupes persist on the plants through winter and are dispersed by animals and gravity. Seeds have hard seedcoats and dormant embryos, and may be stored in the soil. Soil-stored seed has been found near the surface.

Vegetative - Regeneration is primarily asexual. After the second year, the stems (stolons) produce adventitious, feeding roots at the nodes which seldom grow deeper than the duff layer. If a stem is severed from the original plant, roots develop which penetrate into mineral soil. When plants are growing in sandy soil or loose duff, the creeping stems often grow under the surface. After 7 or 8 years, small nodules may appear at intervals along buried stems. These nodules resemble nitrogen-fixing root nodules but examination has shown these nodules to be composed of latent buds that have no ability to fix nitrogen.

Seed: The berrylike drupes persist on the plants through winter and are dispersed by animals and gravity. Seeds have hard seedcoats and dormant embryos, and may be stored in the soil. Soil-stored seed has been found near the surface. Study results indicate that removing the surface litter increases seedling establishment, although the total number of germinants in this study was very small. In a natural environment, seedling growth is slow for the first 3 years, then increases. During the first year, root growth exceeds shoot growth. Kinnikinnick plants which originated naturally as seedlings appear to be rare. (Plant Database)

Species Distribution

Kinnikinnick is a widespread, circumpolar species. In North America,it grows from the northern half of California north to Alaska and across Canada and the northern United States to New England and Newfoundland. Its range extends south in the Rocky Mountains to New Mexico. In eastern North America, it extends south along the Atlantic Coast to New Jersey and in the Appalachian Mountains to Virginia. Rare, disjunct populations occur in Georgia. (Plant Database)


USDA Plant Database USDA, NRCS. 2016. The PLANTS Database (, 4 February 2016). National Plant Data Team, Greensboro, NC 27401-4901 USA.

Flora of North America Flora of North America Editorial Committee, eds. 1993+. Flora of North America North of Mexico. 19+ vols. New York and Oxford.

Silvics of North America Burns, R.M., and B.H. Honkala. 1990. Silvics of North America (Volume 1: Conifers, Volume 2: Hardwoods). USDA Forest Service Agricultural Handbook 654.

Intermountain Herbarium Consortium of Intermountain Herbaria. 2016. http// Accessed on February 04.

Burke Museum Plant Image Collection The plant image collection at the Burke Museum, University of Washington.

Jepson Manual The Jepson Manual: Vascular Plants of California. B.G. Baldwin, D.H. Goldman, D.J. Keil, R. Patterson, T.J. Rosatti, and D.H. Wilken [editors]. 2012. 2nd edition, thoroughly revised and expanded. University of California Press, Berkeley, CA., hardcover; 1600 pages. ISBN-13: 978-0520253124.

USGS Plant Species Range Maps Critchfield, W.B., and Little, E.L., Jr., 1966, Geographic distribution of the pines of the world: U.S. Department of Agriculture Miscellaneous Publication 991, p. 1-97. Little, E.L., Jr., 1971-1978, Atlas of United States trees, volume 1,3,13,17, conifers and important hardwoods: U.S. Department of Agriculture Miscellaneous Publications.