Vaccinium membranaceum

Thinleaf huckleberry


The Basics

Taxonomy: Kingdom - Plantae (plants). Subkingdom - Tracheobionta (vascular plants). Superdivision - Spermatophyta (seed plants). Division - Magnoliophyta (flowering plants). Class - Magnoliopsida (dicotyledons). Subclass - Dilleniidae. Order - Ericales. Family - Ericaceae (heath). Genus - Vaccinium L. Species - Vaccinium membranaceum Douglas ex. Torr.

Ecology: Thinleaf huckleberry is a native, rhizomatous, frost-tolerant shrub. Thinleaf huckleberry may occur in early or late seral stages. It generally shows greatest productivity within sites that experienced disturbance about 50 years previously. Big huckleberry is a widespread understory dominant in late seral and climax communities in subalpine forests. Decline of big huckleberry as forests move toward climax status is inevitable, especially in areas of crown closure. Without disturbance, big huckleberry will gradually decrease in dominance, crowded out by trees.


Leaves are alternate, elliptic to oblong, and small, ranging from 1.8-7 cm long. Roots may penetrate to 100 cm of soil. Rhizomes are usually found within the 8-30 cm range of a soil profile. Thinleaf huckleberry forms small to extensive clumps, rarely crown-forming, 2-30 dm, not rhizomatous; twigs of current season yellow-green or reddish green, terete to slightly angled, glabrous or hairy in lines. Leaf blades usually green, broadly elliptic to ovate, 25-50 11-23 mm, margins sharply serrate, surfaces glandular abaxially. Flowers: calyx green, obscurely lobed, glabrous; corolla white, cream, yellowish pink, or bronze, globose to urceolate, 3-5 5-7 mm, thin, glaucous; filaments glabrous. Berries shiny or dull black or deep purple, rarely red or white, 9-13 mm diam. Seeds ca. 1 mm.


In the WFDP: Thinleaf huckleberry is subject to herbivory in the WFDP; elk, in particular, may browse thinleaf huckleberry to a fatal extent. Another key factor affecting mortality of thinleaf huckleberry in this energy-limited system is suppression.

Fire effects: Foliage of thinleaf huckleberry is of low flammability, allowing for survival after low severity fires, with top-kill resulting from higher severity fires. Top-killed plants resprout from rhizomes. Thinleaf huckleberry is adapted to sprout after fire and is efficient in storing nutrients released from burning. Thinleaf huckleberry sprouts after fire from shallow and deep rhizomes or root crown. Heat penetration into soil layers where rhizomes occur will affect thinleaf huckleberry's ability to produce postfire, vegetative sprouts. In preferred habitats, thinleaf huckleberry will generally survive low to moderately severe fires, attaining prefire coverage within 3 to 7 years, with stem number and density increasing.


Seed production and dispersal: Flowers are pollinated by bees with each stem node having the capacity to produce 1 berry. A typical berry carries 47 seeds. Mean germination is around 42%. Establishment through seed is not heavily relied upon after disturbance.

Vegetative Reproduction: Thinleaf huckleberry possesses an extensive system of rhizomes, with adventitious buds distributed evenly along the length of the rhizome. Vegetative production is relied upon highly for regeneration after disturbance. Fruit productivity is more sensitive to solar radiation than vegetative production.

Species Distribution


USDA Plants Database
USDA, NRCS. 2016. The PLANTS Database. National Plant Data Team, Greensboro, NC 27401-4901 USA.
Photo credit: Susan McDougall, hosted by the USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database
Photo credit: Richard A. Howard, hosted by the USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database

USFS Plant Database
Habeck, R. J. 1992. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory.

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.

Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture
Burke Museum. 2016. Vaccinium membranaceum [Online]. University of Washington.
Photo credit: Robert L. Carr, 2013