Posted by: columbiahighlands | August 31, 2010

Huckleberries in the Highlands

If there were a physical manifestation of summer in Northeast Washington, the huckleberry just might be it. And now is prime gathering time for the mystical fruit that seems to transfix Northeast Washington every August. 

Botanists have identified at least seven species of huckleberry, a member of the blueberry family, in and around the Colville National Forest, although most pickers prize the western huckleberry (Vaccinum membranaceum) above all others for its sweet, slightly tart flavor and large size.

A handful of huckleberries. Photo by Holly Weiler.

Huckleberry pickers tend not to divulge their secret huckleberry-picking locations, but knowing a few key criteria for huckleberry habitat should give even the most novice huckleberry scout some clues.

The shrubs are most often found in mid- to high-elevation coniferous forests with semi-open to open canopies; berries seem to be particularly prolific on shrubs in old burn areas in subalpine forests.

By early September, lower-elevation shrubs may already be picked over, so look upward–Gillette Ridge, Abercrombie Mountain, the Shedroof Divide and Pass Creek Pass.

And remember: humans are not the only devotees of the huckleberry. Huckleberries form a staple of the bear diet, and, although most bears will avoid human contact when possible, a canister of bear spray makes a worthwhile addition to the picker’s backpack.

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