Vaccinium ovatum

California huckleberry


The Basics

Taxonomy: Kingdom - Plantae (plants). Subkingdom - Tracheobionta (vascular plants). Superdivision - Spermatophyta (seed plants). Division - Magnoliophyta (Flowering plants). Class - Magnoliopsida. Order - Ericales. Family - Ericaceae (Heath family). Genus -Vaccinium L. Species - Vaccinum ovatum

Ecology: California huckleberry grows as an understory dominant or codominant in certain mature Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis), Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii), western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla), and western redcedar (Thuja plicata) forests of the Northwest. It also occurs in coastal head land shrub communities codominated by species such as Pacific rhododendron (Rhododendron macrophyllum), poison-oak (Toxicodendron diversilobum), and salal (Gaultheria shallon).


California huckleberry is a much-branched, stout erect, or semispreading evergreen shrub which reaches 1.5 to 15 feet (0.5-4.6 m) in height. Plants often become spindly and clambering with extremes of either moisture or shade. Twigs are reddish-brown and covered with short hairs. Stem morphology has been examined in detail. Plants often possess a "massive" root crown which comprises up to 15.4 percent of the total belowground biomass. Numerous, alternate leaves are thick, leathery, and ovate to oblong-lanceolate. Leaves are rounded at the base but acute at the apex. The upper surface is shiny, glossy, and dark green, whereas the underside is dull and paler. Leaves typically have serrate margins.


Fire effects: Although aboveground foliage is commonly killed by fire, underground portions of California huckleberry often survive. Most western huckleberries (Vaccinium spp.) appear to be particularly vulnerable to hot, duff-consuming fires. However, older, decadent individuals can sometimes be rejuvenated by light fires which do not damage underground regenerative structures. Seeds of most huckleberries are susceptible to heat and are presumably killed by fire


Flowering and Fruiting - Pacific silver fir is monoecious; self-fertilization is possible because times of pollen dispersal and seed cone receptivity overlap on the same tree. When receptive to pollination, the seed cones appear purple, erect, and 8 to 16 cm tall on the upper surfaces of 1-year-old branches in the upper parts of tree crowns. Just before pollination, the pollen cones appear red, pendent, and usually abundant on the lower surfaces of the branches somewhat lower on the crowns than the seed cones. Seeds are fully mature in late August, and dissemination begins in mid-September- one of the earliest dispersal times for Pacific Northwest conifers.

Seed Production and Dissemination - California huckleberry, a cluster-fruited Vaccinium, can produce10 to 20 times more fruit than single-fruited huckleberries of similar size. Fruit is typically produced in great abundance whenever conditions are favorable. Seeds of most Vaccinium spp. are not dormant and require no pretreatment for germination . Seedlings first emerge in approximately 1 month and continue to emerge for long periods of time in the absence of cold stratification. However, seedlings of most western huckleberries are rarely observed in the field. Seeds of California huckleberry usually exhibit fairly good germination under laboratory conditions, but early growth is generally very slow. Berries are widely dispersed by birds and mammals.

Vegetative Reproduction - Sprouting has been well-documented in California huckleberry, but specific details are lacking. Most species of Vaccinium regenerate from basal sprouts or underground regenerative structures such as roots or rhizomes. Root or rhizome sprouting is probable in the California huckleberry. It reportedly possesses a well-developed root crownand sprouts from this structure after aboveground vegetation is damaged.

Species Distribution


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.

USDA Plants Database
USDA, NRCS. 2016. The PLANTS Database. National Plant Data Team, Greensboro, NC 27401-4901 USA.

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. Abies amabilis [Online]. University of Washington.