Kinnikinnick Mealberry Bearberry

Arctostaphylos uva-ursi (L.) Spreng.

Kinnikinnick is an abundant plant forming a ground cover with trailing stems. The long, woody, flexible branches are covered with leathery, teardrop-shaped green leaves. Blooming early, it bears clusters of small, pale pink, urn-shaped flowers, later forming bright red berries. The berries have applelike, pithy white centers. They are edible but not especially tasty. Kinnikinnick favors hillsides and slopes, often trailing over cutbanks and bluff tops. It is an evergreen plant, and both leaves and berries appear unscathed during intermittent snows and thaws. Even under feet of snow, digging reveals the supple green foliage and plump red berries. The long branches can be twined into a winter wreath. The berries are said to taste best late in the year, after it has snowed and melted again (N. Galaktianoff, Sr., pers. com.).

Range:

Circumboreal and widespread in Alaska, lacking in the central and western Aleutians.

Alpine Bearberry

Arctostaphylos alpina (L.) Spreng. (=Arctous alpina (L.) Niedenzu)

(E) qalngaagim qaayuu: raven's berry

A low-growing woody shrub with stiff branches, alpine bearberry grows 1" to 4" tall. The ovate leaves are finely toothed, leathery, reticulate, and rough textured. The small flowers are pale yellow and urn shaped. The fruit is a blue-black berry.

Alpine bearberry is not an abundant or especially tasty berry, although it is edible. It grows in dry heath-covered tundra and on rocky knolls, often tucked among reindeer lichen. The leaves are very similar to those of the net leaf willow (Salix reticulata), and the two plants favor the same habitat. But while the alpine bearberry's leaf tapers to its base, the net leaf willow's is rounded where it meets the stem. In fall, the alpine bearberry's brilliant orange red foliage is striking among the dark rocky outcroppings.

Range:

Northern circumpolar and widespread in Alaska, lacking in central and western Aleutians

Lingonberry, Mountain Cranberry

Vaccinium vitis-idaea L.

Lingonberry, Mountain Cranberry

Vaccinium vitis-idaea L.

(Russian) brusnika, probably also names for the cranberry (Oxycoccus microcarpus)

A delicate evergreen plant with thin, reddish-brown stems, lingonberry seldom grows more than a few inches tall. The leaves are very small, usually about W" long. They are ovate, dark green, stiff, and leathery, with a deep crease down the middle. The pale pink urn-shaped flowers are borne in clusters at the tips of the stems. Later they form small red berries about W" long.

Lingonberries spread in low patches over the dry tundra of hillsides and knolls, often growing among other members of the heath family. Lingonberry is superficially similar to kinnikinnick, but is usually smaller and has shiny leaves and a juicy berry. The tart berries turn a darker translucent red and become juicy late in the season. They are best picked in October and even November.

Range:

Northern circumpolar and widespread in Alaska.

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