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SPECIES:  Vaccinium alaskaense
Alaska blueberry. Image by Harlan B. Herbert,


SPECIES: Vaccinium alaskaense
AUTHORSHIP AND CITATION: Matthews, Robin F. 1992. Vaccinium alaskaense. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: []. Revisions: On 27 August 2018, the scientific name of this species was changed in FEIS from: Vaccinium alaskensis to: Vaccinium alaskaense. Images were also added.
ABBREVIATION: VACALA SYNONYMS: Vaccinium alaskensis Howell [4,32,33,55] Vaccinium oblatum Henry NRCS PLANT CODE: VAAL3 COMMON NAMES: Alaska blueberry Alaska huckleberry TAXONOMY: The scientific name of Alaska blueberry is Vaccinium alaskaense Howell (Ericaceae) [51]. It has been placed within the Euvaccinium section of the taxonomically complex genus Vaccinium [9,42]. Alaska blueberry is thought to be a polyploid hybrid derived from oval-leaf blueberry (V. ovalifolium) and red huckleberry (V. parvifolium) [9]. LIFE FORM: Shrub FEDERAL LEGAL STATUS: No special status OTHER STATUS: NO-ENTRY


SPECIES: Vaccinium alaskaense
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION: Alaska blueberry occurs from the Cascade Range in northern Oregon and Washington to Prince William Sound, Alaska [4,32,33,55].
Distribution of Alaska blueberry in Alaska and British Columbia (left) and the conterminous United States (right). Maps courtesy of USDA, NRCS. 2018. The PLANTS Database. National Plant Data Team, Greensboro, NC. [2018, August 27] [51].
   FRES20  Douglas-fir
   FRES23  Fir - spruce
   FRES24  Hemlock - Sitka spruce

     AK  OR  WA  BC

   1  Northern Pacific Border
   2  Cascade Mountains

   K001  Spruce - cedar - hemlock forest
   K002  Cedar - hemlock - Douglas-fir forest
   K003  Silver fir - Douglas-fir forest
   K004  Fir - hemlock forest
   K012  Douglas-fir forest
   K015  Western spruce - fir forest

   205  Mountain hemlock
   206  Engelmann spruce - subalpine fir
   223  Sitka spruce
   224  Western hemlock
   225  Western hemlock - Sitka spruce
   226  Coastal true fir - hemlock
   227  Western redcedar - western hemlock
   228  Western redcedar
   229  Pacific Douglas-fir
   230  Douglas-fir - western hemlock

Alaska blueberry occurs as an understory dominant or codominant in many
habitats within its range.  It is most often associated with Pacific
silver fir (Abies amabilis), western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla),
mountain hemlock (T. mertensiana), and Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis).
The Pacific silver fir/Alaska blueberry community type occurs over large
areas of land from northern Oregon to southern British Columbia.  It may
be the most widely represented community type within the Cascade Range

Other commonly associated species include noble fir (Abies procera),
Alaska-cedar (Chamaecyparis nootkatensis), salal (Gaultheria shallon),
rusty menziesia (Menziesia ferruginea), beargrass (Xerophyllum tenax),
bunchberry dogwood (Cornus canadensis), Oregon grape (Berberis nervosa),
Pacific rhododendron (Rhododendron macrophyllum), devil's club
(Oplopanax horridum), skunk cabbage (Veratrum californicum), and various
gooseberries (Ribes spp.), and blackberries (Rubus spp.). [also see SAF
cover types]

Published classification schemes identifying Alaska blueberry as a major
component of plant associations (pas), community types (cts), or habitat
types (hts) are as follows:

  AREA                    CLASSIFICATION            AUTHORITY

AK                           gen. veg. pas      Viereck & Dyrness 1980
OR: Willamette NF             forest pas        Hemstrom and others 1987
OR: MT Hood & Willamette NF   forest pas        Hemstrom and others 1982
OR: MT Hood NF                forest pas        Halverson and others 1986
OR: central Cascades          forest pas        Dyrness and others 1974
WA:Gifford Pinchot NF    Pacific silver fir     Brockway and others 1985
                              zone pas                                    
wWA                           forest cts        del Moral & Fleming 1979
wWA:Cedar River drainage  montane forest cts   del Moral & Long 1977
WA: Cascades                  forest cts        del Moral & Watson 1978
sWA: Cascades            subalpine forest pas   Franklin 1966 
WA: MT Rainier NP             forest pas        Franklin and others 1988
WA: Gifford Pinchot NF        forest pas        Topik and others 1986 
Pacific Northwest             noble fir ht      Franklin 1983


SPECIES: Vaccinium alaskaense
IMPORTANCE TO LIVESTOCK AND WILDLIFE: Alaska blueberry fruits are utilized by many species of wildlife including songbirds, gamebirds, mice, chipmunks, squirrels, raccoons, and black bears [38,55]. Along the coast of British Columbia, grizzly bears consume the berries [6]. Twigs and foliage are used as browse by rabbit, snowshoe hare, bear, goat, elk, and deer [29,38]. Alaska blueberry is very important as winter browse because it is often found in older stands with shallow snowpack, making it more accessible to wildlife. Utilization may also increase in early winter in open areas when lower growing vegetation becomes covered with snow. PALATABILITY: Palatability of Vaccinium species as browse is rated at fair to moderate [12]. Alaska blueberry leaves found in forested areas are more palatable to deer than those found in clearcuts [28]. NUTRITIONAL VALUE: Alaska blueberry leaves collected in clearcuts differ in nutrient content from leaves collected in older stands. In older stands, leaves have a higher concentration of nitrogen and percentage of digestible protein. However, leaves from clearcut areas are higher in overall digestible dry matter. Values for digestible protein (DP) and digestible dry matter (DDM) are as follows: DP (% dry weight) DDM (% dry weight) clearcut 4.8 57.8 forest 11.2 54.7 Van Horne [52] found that phosphorous and potassium concentrations are also greater in leaves from older stands. These concentrations decrease sharply from spring to fall. Nutrient concentrations (percent dry weight) are as follows: May October nitrogen 5.79 1.54 phosphorous 0.81 0.14 potassium 1.93 0.73 Vaccinium species in general have sweet berries that contain high concentrations of mono- and di- saccharides [48]. They are rich in vitamin C and high in energy content, but low in fat [44]. COVER VALUE: Alaska blueberry presumably provides cover for a variety of wildlife species. It often forms a dense understory layer that may serve as hiding, resting, or nesting sites for many smaller birds and mammals. VALUE FOR REHABILITATION OF DISTURBED SITES: Much of the natural disturbance in areas that Alaska blueberry occupies is a result of windthrow. Alaska blueberry readily colonizes sites where trees have been blown down, the canopy has opened up, and sunlight has been made available [1,2]. After the eruption of Mount St. Helens in Washington, Alaska blueberry plants did not develop adventitious root systems or change the orientation of their rhizomes in order to recover from burial by tephra (volcanic ejecta), although many other species did [5]. OTHER USES AND VALUES: Alaska blueberry fruits are edible and sweet [33,55]. They are used in jams and jellies, and along with ovalleaf blueberry, constitute the majority of blueberries picked along coastal Alaska [55]. Alaska blueberry may produce up to 100 berries per bush, making commercial collection very time efficient and profitable. The berries have been an important traditional food source for Native Americans including the Nuxalk of the Bella Coola region of British Columbia [36]. Blueberry (Vaccinium spp.) leaves, flowers, and rhizomes have also been used for medicinal purposes [53]. OTHER MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS: Alaska blueberry rapidly sprouts from underground stems or establishes by seed within 3 years of clearcutting [2]. Desired commercial tree species should be established as soon as possible after timber harvest because Alaska blueberry may provide competition to tree seedlings. However, most western blueberry species are severely damaged by postlogging treatments such as mechanical piling that include harsh scarification [39]. Alaska blueberry in old spruce-hemlock stands in central Oregon responded best to heavy or extreme thinning treatments [3]. Net biomass production of Alaska blueberry differs drastically in different habitats. In hemlock-spruce types, Alaska blueberry produced 98.6 pounds per acre (110.5 kg/ha) of biomass when associated with skunk cabbage but only 8.66 pounds per acre (9.7 kg/ha) when associated with bunchberry dogwood [29]. Values for available biomass in four forest types are as follows [2]: FOREST TYPE STAND AGE BIOMASS AVAILABLE clearcut 1-25 yrs. 740 lbs/acre (829 kg/ha) dense, even-aged 26-150 yrs. 15 lbs/acre (16 kg/ha) mature, even-aged 150-250 yrs. 62 lbs/acre (69 kg/ha) old-growth >250 yrs. 337 lbs/acre (378 kg/ha) Blueberries (Vaccinium spp.) are not actively cultivated in the Northwest, but they do produce a profitable and highly demanded crop. Most of the naturally occurring blueberry fields in Oregon and Washington are seral and have originated from wildfire. Succession must be delayed in order to preserve areas where blueberry production is the most important land use. Burning every 2 to 3 years and chemical or mechanical weeding may help maintain these areas of high berry production [40]. Management techniques for cultivation of western Vaccinium species have not been well documented, although eastern blueberries have been cultivated successfully for years. Vacciniums are most often propogated by hardwood cuttings but also can be grown from seed. In general, the seeds should be planted in a mixture of sand and peat. Seedlings grown in the greenhouse can be transplanted 6 to 7 weeks after emergence but should not be transferred to the field until after the first growing season [11]. Vaccinium spp. can be controlled by applying 2,4-D to foliage, stems, or basal areas [24].


SPECIES: Vaccinium alaskaense
GENERAL BOTANICAL CHARACTERISTICS: Alaska blueberry is a spreading to erect shrub reaching 6 feet (2 m) in height. Leaves are elliptic to obovate. The thin twigs are yellow green but become gray with age. The urn-shaped, bronzy-pink flowers are borne singly in leaf axils when the leaves are partially developed. The fruit is a globose blue-black to purple berry that may or may not have a bloom [4,32,33,55]. The plant is rhizomatous and generally has shallow roots. Alaska blueberry is easily confused with ovalleaf blueberry. These two species can be distinguished by the fact that Alaska blueberry is taller and has larger leaves than ovalleaf blueberry, and the latter flowers before or with the leaves. Alaska blueberry is also more shade tolerant than ovalleaf blueberry [33,40,55]. RAUNKIAER LIFE FORM: Phanerophyte REGENERATION PROCESSES: Alaska blueberry is capable of reproducing by seed or by vegetative means. Vegetative reproduction is of primary importance to most western Vaccinium species [39]. Seeds of most Vacciniums are not dormant and require no pretreatment for germination [11]. A single Alaska blueberry fruit may have up to 100 or more seeds [49]. The seeds germinate well, but seedling emergence and survival are strongly correlated with the amount of available light [29,49]. Seedling emergence in one study was 45 percent in light-limited young stands, and 73 percent in older stands [49]. Germination on nurse logs is common [47]. Seeds are readily dispersed by the many birds and mammals that eat Alaska blueberry fruits [3]. Vegetative reproduction: Most Vacciniums regenerate from basal sprouts, roots, or rhizomes [45]. Sprouting from branches or stems may also occur after fire or herbivory. Rhizome spreading allows for clonal expansion, even in the absence of disturbance [49]. SITE CHARACTERISTICS: Alaska blueberry occupies a variety of different land forms from valley bottoms to mountain slopes [16,21,22,30]. It is most often found in cool, moist sites in montane forests [26]. These sites are generally classified as moderately productive [8,26,27]. Alaska blueberry is abundant on sites with minimal soil disturbance [2]. It is found at elevations ranging from sea level to around 6,000 feet (1,800 m). Aspect is variable [8,27]. Alaska blueberry can tolerate a wide range of soil moisture conditions and is found in well-drained to poorly drained sites [21,22,27,30]. Alaska blueberry has been classified as an indicator of hypermaritime to maritime climates, and moist to very moist, nitrogen-poor soils [34]. Alaska blueberry generally occurs in sandy, silt, or clay loams developed in tephra and colluvial, morainal, or glacial till [8,16,22,30]. SUCCESSIONAL STATUS: Alaska blueberry is capable of surviving many types of disturbance and can be important in certain seral communities. It can be an early colonizer in clearcuts, burned areas, and in areas of windthrow [2,49]. However, as stands become dense and even-aged (stand age 25-150 years), Alaska blueberry decreases drastically in frequency and abundance. As the stand continues to mature (stand age 150-250 years) and begins to self-thin, Alaska blueberry again increases and forms a low, highly branched layer [2]. Alaska blueberry is most often associated with these late seral or climax community types. It occurs frequently in mature-climax western hemlock, Sitka spruce-western hemlock, coastal true fir-hemlock, and Douglas-fir types [10,31,34,46,47]. SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT: Alaska blueberry flowers emerge from April to May after the leaves are partially developed. Berries ripen from mid-July to mid-August [55].


SPECIES: Vaccinium alaskaense
FIRE ECOLOGY OR ADAPTATIONS: Alaska blueberry sprouts from rhizomes after burning [49]. It may also sprout from roots and underground stems like other Vacciniums [25,41,45]. Seedling establishment in most western Vacciniums is not common but may occur as birds and animals disperse seeds from off-site sources [39]. Seral blueberry fields in Oregon and Washington are most likely the result of wildfires [40]. These fields are dwindling in size as a result of decades of fire suppresion. Fire has apparently been used in the past by Native Americans of the Northwest to enhance or maintain Vaccinium fruit production [36,40]. Alaska blueberry primarily occurs in cool-moist forests that have very long fire intervals (perhaps 400-500 years). FIRE REGIMES: Find fire regime information for the plant communities in which this species may occur by entering the species name in the FEIS home page under "Find Fire Regimes". POSTFIRE REGENERATION STRATEGY: survivor species; on-site surviving root crown or caudex survivor species; on-site surviving rhizomes off-site colonizer; seed carried by animals or water; postfire yr 1&2


SPECIES: Vaccinium alaskaense
IMMEDIATE FIRE EFFECT ON PLANT: Fire top-kills Alaska blueberry. Moderate- to high-severity fires also kill underground vegetative portions. Seeds of most western Vaccinium spp. are susceptible to heat and are killed by fire [39]. PLANT RESPONSE TO FIRE: Fire severity significantly influences vegetative response and plants may not sprout on heavily burned sites where underground regenerative structures have been damaged or destroyed. Clearcutting and subsequent burning increased the vigor of Alaska blueberry in southeast Alaska. Within 4 years the number of aerial stems sprouting from rhizomes in clearcut and burned areas was twice the number found in old stands [49]. DISCUSSION AND QUALIFICATION OF PLANT RESPONSE: In a study at the Sawtooth Huckleberry Field near Mount Adams, Washington, Vaccinium species sprouted in burned areas by the first postfire growing season. However, no flowers or berries were produced by the plants for 3 years following the fire. Significant berry production was delayed 5 years [41]. On some sites, production may be reduced for 20 to 30 years or longer [39]. FIRE MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS: Flower buds tend to be more numerous on new shoots and periodic removal of old shoots can increase flower production in many Vacciniums. Prescribed fire has long been used to rejuvenate commercial lowbush blueberry (V. angustifolium) fields and to increase fruit production. Spring burns, conducted when the soil is moist, are generally most effective in promoting blueberry fruit development [39].


SPECIES: Vaccinium alaskaense
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