Vaccinium parviflorum - red huckleberry, red bilberry

Family: Ericaceae
Wetland Indictor Status: FACU

General Species Description

Red huckleberry is a medium sized (1-4 m.) deciduous shrub. The small (1-3 cm.) leaves are oval and generally smooth edged, but may be slightly toothed on young specimens. The twigs are bright green.


The leaves and twigs of the red huckleberry are bright green making a lovely contrast with the red berries. They are simple, oval, alternate, and usually smooth margined. The leaves and branches of the huckleberry are generally parellel to the ground giving the impression of "shelves" or layers of leaves.


The whitish pink/green flowers are urn shaped with 5 tiny petals at the opening of the "urn". The 5 mm blossoms are attached to the underside of the branches by small stems. Red huckleberries bloom from May to June.


Red huckleberry produces a delicious, small, (6-9 mm), tart, red berry. The berries dangle from small stems under the branches. They have "crowns" at the bottom which are the remains of the flowers.


Red huckleberry is extremely shade tolerant and appears in coniferous or mixed forests. It is scarce in dry woods. It is usually found in the transitional zones between wetland and other habitats. It grows well on decaying stumps and logs where the seeds were most likely deposited by birds. It is often found with seedlings of western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla) on the same log or stump.


Found from southeast Alaska to central California west of the Cascades. May be found solitary, or in large patches. In Oregon look for shady forests with a lot of deadfall. Huckleberries love rotting wood.

Similar Species

Many of the Vaccinium species are similar. The red huckleberry is easily identified by its bright green twigs and red fruits. Other Vaccinium species have blue to purple fruits. Twigs of vine maple (Acer circinatum) are a similar color, and may be confused with red huckleberry, but are thicker and do not have angular ridges. Rusty menziesia (Menziesia ferruginea) has similar leaves, but are palmate, the flowers are orange, and the fruits are in capsules. At first glance some small Rosa species especially those with red hips can be confused with red huckleberry, but on closer inspection the Rosas reveal toothed margins on their leaves and thorns on their stems. Several other species have the same common name. Evergreen huckleberry (V. ovatum) has dark green, toothed leaves, and dark purple berries. It is often used in floral arrangements.

Ecological Value

Red huckleberries are eaten by birds and other wildlife. The leaves are eaten by herbivores especially deer. The shrub is a nesting site for small birds. It aids in the decomposition of fallen trees.

Human Value

The fruits of the huckleberry make an excellent pie for the picker with the patience to collect enough of them. They can be dried, mashed, or juiced. They are tart and delicious. An attractive plant it is sometimes used as an ornamental.


A Field Guide to the Common Wetland Plants of Western Washington & Northwestern Oregon, edited by Sarah Spear Cooke, Seattle Audobon Society, 1997 -- Flora of the Pacific Northwest, Hitchcock and Cronquist, University of Washington Press, 1974

This page was created by: Rose Wingenbach, August 1998

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