Vaccinium parvifolium

Red 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 parvifolium Sm.

Ecology: Red huckleberry occurs as a climax shrub in western hemlock, western hemlock-Sitka spruce, Douglas-fir, and redwood forests of the Northwest. It is also capable of surviving many types of disturbances and can be important in certain seral communities. Red huckleberry dominates many seral communities in western hemlock forests of the Northwest and is particularly common on unburned clearcuts. In the Cascade Range, red huckleberry assumes prominence during the initial herbaceous stage of succession which occurs 0 to 5 years after disturbance. Red huckleberry abundance declined as conifers and deciduous trees develop into a closed canopy.


Red huckleberry is an erect or somewhat straggling, small-to-large, deciduous shrub which generally grows 1.8-3.6 m in height. This shrub is the tallest of western huckleberries (Vaccinium spp.) and on favorable sites, occasionally reaches 7.6 m. Plants tend to be trailing and vinelike for the first 4 to 5 years until assuming a more erect, mature growth form. Shrubs also tend to become low and straggling in dense, shady, old-growth stands. Red huckleberry is crown-forming, sometimes suckering when injured, 10-70 dm, not rhizomatous; twigs of current season green, sharply angled, glabrous or minutely puberulent in lines; (short lateral branches on both orthotropic and plagiotropic shoots often divaricate to 75 giving shrub a distinct fasciculate aspect). Leaf blades dark green, ovate to oblong-elliptic, 13-25 8-14 mm, margins entire, surfaces puberulent or glabrous abaxially, glabrous adaxially. Flowers: calyx pale green, lobes spreading, distinct, broadly ovate, 0.4-0.6 mm, glabrous; corolla pink, bronze, or yellowish green, globose to urceolate, 4-6 3-5 mm, thin, glaucous; filaments glabrous. Berries red, sometimes faintly glaucous, translucent, 7-10 mm diam. Seeds ca. 1 mm.


In the WFDP: Red huckleberry is subject to herbivory in the WFDP; elk, in particular, may browse red huckleberry to a fatal extent. Another key factor affecting mortality of red huckleberry in this energy-limited system is suppression. Red huckleberry will often sacrifice smaller remets (clonal stems) to allocate more resources to the strongest remet in a shrub patch. Pathogens affecting red huckleberry in the WFDP include: laminated root rot (Phellinus weirii) and Armillaria root rot (aka Honey fungus; Armillaria spp.).

Fire effects: Red huckleberry is described as "moderately resistant" to fire but aboveground vegetation is commonly killed. Underground regenerative structures such as roots, rhizomes, or "stems" often persist, enabling portions of the plant to survive many, if not most, fires. Survival is presumably most likely after light to moderate fires which do not remove soil or duff. Red huckleberry commonly sprouts from the stem, roots, or rhizomes after fire damages or removes aboveground foliage. However, fire intensity and severity significantly influence vegetative response. Plants may not resprout on severely burned sites where underground regenerative structures have been seriously damaged or destroyed. Seeds of most huckleberries (Vaccinium spp.) are susceptible to heat and are presumably killed by fire.


Seed production and dispersal: Urn-shaped flowers of red huckleberry are waxy, yellowish-pink, whitish, or greenish-yellow. Flowers are borne singly in the leaf axils or in few-flowered clusters. Floral morphology has been studied in depth. Fruit of the red huckleberry is a translucent, bright red to pinkish, spherical berry which averages 8 mm in diameter. Red huckleberry is single-fruited. Each berry contains approximately 18 or 19 smooth, well-formed reddish seeds or nutlets 1-1.2 mm in diameter. Red huckleberry seed is typically produced in abundance. Seeds are readily dispersed by many birds and mammals. The digestive processes of animals may promote germination.

Vegetative Reproduction: Red huckleberry typically sprouts or "suckers" after plants are damaged by fire, mechanical removal, or herbivory. Branch or stem sprouting is also common after fire or herbivores remove much of the crown. This shrub is rhizomatous and presumably sprouts from these underground portions after aboveground portions are eliminated. Rhizome spreading may allow for clonal expansion even in the absence of disturbance. Sprouting from roots or "underground stems" has also been reported, although these modes of vegetative regeneration have not been well documented.

Species Distribution


USDA Plants Database
USDA, NRCS. 2016. The PLANTS Database. National Plant Data Team, Greensboro, NC 27401-4901 USA.
Photo credit: Lindsey Koepke, 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 parvifolium [Online]. University of Washington.
Photo credit: Ben Legler 2006
Photo credit: Ben Legler 2004