Index of Species Information
SPECIES: Vaccinium ovatum
SPECIES: Vaccinium ovatum
AUTHORSHIP AND CITATION:
Tirmenstein, D. 1990. Vaccinium ovatum. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online].
U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station,
Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available:
On 27 August 2018, the common name of this species was changed in FEIS
from: evergreen huckleberry
to: California huckleberry. Images were also added.
Vaccinium ovatum var. ovatum
Vaccinium ovatum var. saporosum Jepson 
NRCS PLANT CODE:
The scientific name of California huckleberry is Vaccinium ovatum Pursh
FEDERAL LEGAL STATUS:
No special status
DISTRIBUTION AND OCCURRENCE
SPECIES: Vaccinium ovatum
California huckleberry occurs along the Pacific Coast from British
Columbia to central California [8,21,58]. It is rare in the Cascades
but grows throughout the Coast Ranges and the central Sierra Nevada
[9,21]. California huckleberry occurs sporadically in the higher
mountains of southern California [9,28].
|Distribution of California huckleberry. Map courtesy of USDA, NRCS. 2018. The PLANTS Database.
National Plant Data Team, Greensboro, NC. [2018, August 28] .
FRES23 Fir - spruce
FRES24 Hemlock - Sitka spruce
FRES26 Lodgepole pine
CA OR WA BC
BLM PHYSIOGRAPHIC REGIONS:
1 Northern Pacific Border
3 Southern Pacific Border
4 Sierra Mountains
KUCHLER PLANT ASSOCIATIONS:
K001 Spruce - cedar - hemlock forest
K002 Cedar - hemlock - Douglas-fir forest
K003 Silver fir - Douglas-fir forest
K004 Fir - hemlock forest
K006 Redwood forest
K012 Douglas-fir forest
K029 California mixed evergreen forest
SAF COVER TYPES:
218 Lodgepole pine
223 Sitka spruce
224 Western hemlock
225 Western hemlock - Sitka spruce
227 Western redcedar - western hemlock
229 Pacific Douglas-fir
230 Douglas-fir - western hemlock
231 Port Orford cedar
234 Douglas-fir - tanoak - Pacific madrone
HABITAT TYPES AND PLANT COMMUNITIES:
California huckleberry grows as an understory dominant or codominant in
certain mature Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis), Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga
menziesii), western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla), and western redcedar
(Thuja plicata) forests of the Northwest. It also occurs in coastal
headland shrub communities codominated by species such as Pacific
rhododendron (Rhododendron macrophyllum), poison-oak (Toxicodendron
diversilobum), and salal (Gaultheria shallon).
|A redwood/California huckleberry forest in Redwood National Park. USDI, National Park Service image.
California huckleberry also occurs as an understory dominant in humid
coastal Port-Orford cedar (Chamaecyparis lawsoniana), Douglas-fir, and
in redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) communities which develop on broad
alluvial flats [12,41,54,55,62,64]. It is a characteristic understory
component of western hemlock-Sitka spruce communities which occur along
the coast of northern Oregon . California huckleberry grows in pygmy
forests of California beneath species such as lodgepole pine (P.
contorta), Monterey cypress (Hesperocyparis macrocarpa), bishop pine (P.
muricata), and Monterey pine (P. radiata) [63,65]. It commonly assumes
a dwarfed, nearly herblike growth form in these forests [63,65].
California huckleberry persists on cutover sites in many areas where it
forms brushfields [18,34].
This shrub is a prominent component of California and Oregon mixed
evergreen forests dominated by species such as tanoak (Notholithocarpus
densiflorus), canyon live oak (Quercus chrysolepis), sugar pine (Pinus
lambertiana), Douglas-fir, and Pacific madrone (Arbutus menziesii). It
commonly grows as an understory dominant on north-facing slopes or along
rocky streamside terraces .
Understory associates: Common understory associates include salal, red
huckleberry (Vaccinium parvifolium), western swordfern (Polystichum
munitum), Oregon oxalis (Oxalis oregana), Pacific rhododendron, hazel
(Corylus cornuta), thimbleberry (Rubus parviflorus), bog Labrador tea
(Ledum glandulosa), ovalleaf huckleberry (V. ovalifolium), deer fern
(Blechnum spicant), and annual grasses [26,50,54,55,62,66].
Thimbleberry, salal, salmonberry (R. spectabilis), vine maple (Acer
circinatum), and hazel are particularly common brushfield associates
Publications listing it as an indicator or codominant species in
community types or plant associations are presented below.
Preliminary plant associations of the Siskiyou Mountain Province 
The tanoak series of the Siskiyou Mountain Province 
Vegetation and habitats 
Natural vegetation of Oregon and Washington 
Ecoclass coding system for the Pacific Northwest plant associations 
Plant association and management guide: Siulaw National Forest 
SPECIES: Vaccinium ovatum
IMPORTANCE TO LIVESTOCK AND WILDLIFE:
Browse: California huckleberry is considered an important elk browse in
parts of the Coast Ranges of southwestern Oregon . In many other
areas, it is described as poor forage for both elk and deer [21,52].
California huckleberry provides at least some browse for domestic sheep
and goats [12,49]. In certain locations, sheep use may be fairly heavy
in late summer, fall, and winter [12,49]. In parts of California,
domestic goats and deer may utilize 30 to 40 percent of the current
year's twigs and leaves .
Fruit: Berries of California huckleberry are eaten by a wide variety of
birds and mammals . Thrushes, ptarmigans, towhees, ring-necked
pheasant, and spruce, ruffed, blue, and sharp-tailed grouse readily
consume the fruit of many huckleberries (Vaccinium spp.) [38,61].
Mammals such as the black bear, chipmunks, red fox, squirrels, gray fox,
and skunks, also eat the berries of many Vacciniums [38,61]. Grizzly
bears along the coast of British Columbia relish the fruits of many
species of huckleberry (Vaccinium spp.) .
Palatability of California huckleberry browse varies but is generally
rated as low to moderate . Fruit is highly preferred by many birds
and mammals. Palatability of California huckleberry browse in California
has been rated as follows :
Domestic goats fair-poor
Browse: Huckleberry (Vaccinium spp.) foliage is relatively high in
carotene, manganese, and energy content [10,23].
Fruit: Huckleberry fruits are sweet and contain high concentrations of
both mono- and disaccharides . Berries are rich in vitamin C and
energy content but low in fats [30,46]. Berries of California
huckleberry contain 24.5 percent water, 2,658 kcal per kg, and 3.85 mg
of ascorbic acid per gram . Specific nutrient content has been
documented as follows :
nutrient content /g dry weight
calories protein carbo- ash lipid Ca Fe Mg Zn
(g) hydrate (g) (g) (g) (g) (g) (g)
fresh 3.60 0.08 0.89 0.01 0.01 1.56 0.02 0.59 0.01
dried 3.52 0.06 0.92 0.02 0.00 1.74 0.02 0.20 0.01
ascorbic acid (mg)
California huckleberry presumably provides cover for a variety of
wildlife species. It commonly forms dense thickets [57,61] which may
serve as hiding, resting, or nesting sites for many birds and mammals.
VALUE FOR REHABILITATION OF DISTURBED SITES:
California huckleberry can be propagated through hardwood cuttings or by
seed [34,51]. Cleaned seed averages approximately 3,000,000 per pound
(6,608/g) or 10,784 seeds per pound (24/g) of fruit . Huckleberry
(Vaccinium spp.) seedlings grown in the greenhouse can be transplanted
onto favorable sites 6 to 7 weeks after emergence . Wild seedlings
rarely survive when transplanted . Seed collection and storage
techniques have been described .
California huckleberry was used for revegetating riparian areas in the
Santa Clara Valley of California .
OTHER USES AND VALUES:
Fruit of the California huckleberry is sweet, delicious, and edible,
although somewhat mealy, and with a "fairly strong musky flavor"
[8,21,28,40]. Large amounts of this berry are picked annually [51,58].
Berries are relatively large but vary greatly in color and quality .
Berries are made into wine, eaten fresh, cooked, and canned or frozen
by home users and commercial processors [19,51]. Most commercially
processed fruit is used as pie filling . Berries are not considered
as desirable for fresh fruit as those from other species of huckleberry
(Vaccinium spp.) 
Fruit of the California huckleberry was traditionally used by many native
peoples of the West Coast. The Capella Indians reportedly traveled up
to 20 or 30 miles annually to harvest the fruit . Berries were
eaten fresh, mashed, or dried and made into cakes . Preserved
berries provided essential vitamin C during the winter months .
Foliage of the California huckleberry is used by florists for fillers and
for background foliage in flower arrangements . It is also
occasionally used to make Christmas decorations . Large amounts of
California huckleberry foliage are harvested annually and shipped
throughout the United States . During the early 1970s, an estimated
$1 million worth of brush was harvested annually in western Washington
California huckleberry is an attractive California shrub with striking
reddish bark and evergreen leaves which remain a deep green in winter
. This shrub has many horticultural uses and can be planted as a
hedge plant or ground cover [28,49,51,57]. California huckleberry may
also have value for developing commercially important fruit-producing
OTHER MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS:
Chemical control: Huckleberries (Vaccinium spp.) exhibit variable
susceptibility to herbicides such as 2,4-D, 2,4,5-T, glyphosate,
karbutilate, and picloram .
Mechanical removal: Large amounts of California huckleberry foliage are
harvest annually for use in floral arrangements. Gratkowski 
observed that shrubs produce new growth after pruning and are not
significantly reduced by these activities. However, Kruckeberg 
reports that in some areas, California huckleberry "has been exploited by
Timber harvest: California huckleberry often persists after logging .
It is a particularly common constituent of brushfields which develop
after timber harvest in the Coast Ranges of Washington and Oregon and in
the foothills of the Washington Cascades [18,24]. California huckleberry
is frequently dwarfed to 3 to 5 feet (0.9-1.5 m) in height on cutover
lands because of excessive exposure to sun .
Conifer regeneration: California huckleberry, western swordfern
(Polystichum munitum), beargrass (Xerophyllum tenax), and salal can
provide some initial competition for regenerating conifers after timber
harvest on certain sites .
Wildlife considerations: Huckleberries are an extremely important food
source for grizzly bears . Both black and grizzly bears typically
exploit areas with dense concentrations of berries. The habitat value
of huckleberry shrubfields to grizzly bears can be increased by
permanent or at least seasonal road closures, by coordinating timber
harvest dates to have minimal impact on habitat use patterns, and by
considering the cumulative effects of habitat modification across a
broad area. In general, site preparation should include minimizing soil
compaction, using broadcast burns rather than hot slash burns, or by
eliminating site preparation entirely wherever possible. Grizzly use is
favored where hiding cover is retained by treating small, irregular
patches instead of large contiguous areas, and by leaving stringers of
timber within larger cuts . In many areas, bear human conflicts are
most likely to occur during years of huckleberry crop failure [37,47]
when wide-ranging hungry bears encounter recreationalsts or wildland home
owners. Damage to crops and beehives, and livestock losses also
typically increase during poor huckleberry years .
BOTANICAL AND ECOLOGICAL CHARACTERISTICS
SPECIES: Vaccinium ovatum
GENERAL BOTANICAL CHARACTERISTICS:
California huckleberry is a much-branched, stout erect, or semispreading
evergreen shrub [28,40,51] which reaches 1.5 to 15 feet (0.5-4.6 m) in
height [34,39]. Plants often become spindly and clambering with
extremes of either moisture or shade . Twigs are reddish-brown and
covered with short hairs [21,39]. Stem morphology has been examined in
detail . Plants often possess a "massive" root crown which comprises
up to 15.4 percent of the total belowground biomass . Belowground
biomass is distributed as follows :
root crown 15.4 percent
lateral roots 5.0 percent
taproot 79.6 percent
Numerous, alternate leaves are thick, leathery, and ovate to
oblong-lanceolate [21,27,51]. Leaves are rounded at the base but acute
at the apex . The upper surface is shiny, glossy, and dark green,
whereas the underside is dull and paler [34,40,51]. Leaves typically
have serrate margins .
The fragrant, bell-shaped flowers are pink to whitish [34,51,57].
Flowers are borne at the leaf axils in clusters of 3 to 10 and are
primarily pollinated by long-tongued bees such as bumblebees [21,27,39].
Floral morphology has been examined in detail . Fruit is a small,
broadly ovoid to spherical berry [39,40,49,51]. Berries of California
huckleberry are shiny, purplish to black and generally lack bloom
[9,27,57]. Berries are borne in large clusters located close to the
branches [21,39] and contain numerous small seeds .
RAUNKIAER LIFE FORM:
California huckleberry is capable of reproducing through seed or by
vegetative means. However, vegetative regeneration appears to be of
primary importance in most western huckleberries (Vaccinium spp.) .
Seed: California huckleberry, a cluster-fruited Vaccinium, can produce
10 to 20 times more fruit than single-fruited huckleberries of similar
size . Fruit is typically produced in great abundance whenever
conditions are favorable [51,57]. Seeds of most Vaccinium spp. are not
dormant and require no pretreatment for germination . Seedlings
first emerge in approximately 1 month and continue to emerge for long
periods of time in the absence of cold stratification . However,
seedlings of most western huckleberries are rarely observed in the field
. Seeds of California huckleberry usually exhibit fairly good
germination under laboratory conditions, but early growth is generally
very slow . Berries are widely dispersed by birds and mammals .
Vegetative regeneration: Sprouting has been well-documented in
California huckleberry [32,34], but specific details are lacking. Most
species of Vaccinium regenerate from basal sprouts or underground
regenerative structures such as roots or rhizomes . Root  or
rhizome sprouting is probable in the California huckleberry. However,
Westman and Whittaker  report that unlike most other western
huckleberries, California huckleberry lacks rhizomes. It reportedly
possesses a well-developed root crown  and sprouts from this
structure after aboveground vegetation is damaged.
California huckleberry grows on dry slopes, in canyons, and on barren
ridges near the Pacific Coast [40,41,51]. It occurs on well-drained
microsites on both stabilized and active dunes of the northern Oregon
Coast and on steep slopes which face the ocean [15,26]. It commonly
forms dense thickets on open ridges in the fog belt of California .
California huckleberry is tolerant of both sun and shade .
Soil: Huckleberries (Vaccinium spp.) require acidic conditions and can
thrive where pH ranges from 4.3 to 5.2 . These shrubs require
relatively small amounts of many essential elements and are capable of
growing on many relatively infertile soils . California huckleberry
commonly occurs on nitrogen-poor soils . It grows on well-drained
sandy and gravelly soils, and on silty loam [21,56], but generally
reaches greatest abundance on sandy soils . California huckleberry
occurs on soils derived from a number of parent materials including
diorite, granodiorite, gabbro, and olivine-gabbro [50,66]. In the
Klamath Mountains, it typically occurs on soils derived from granitic or
metamorphic parent materials .
Climate: California huckleberry grows across a wide range of moisture
regimes . Many sites are droughty, or are characterized by summer
soil moisture stress [19,21]. In coastal British Columbia, California
huckleberry occurs in mesothermal climatic zones characterized by wet,
cool summers .
Elevation: California huckleberry occurs from near sea level to 3,000
feet (0-914 m) . Generalized elevational ranges are as follows
< 2,500 feet (762 m) in CA
from 0 to 300 feet (0-91 m) in western Oregon
California huckleberry is tolerant of shade and persists in many climax
stands but also grows in early seral communities. In parts of Oregon
and Washington, it occurs in climax forests dominated by western hemlock
and Douglas-fir [15,32]. California huckleberry is also a common
constituent of both dry and moist old growth redwood communities of
southwestern Oregon .
In coastal forests of southwestern Oregon, it is most abundant in
disturbed stands . Cover of California huckleberry by successional
stage, has been documented as follows in a rhododendron (Rhododendron
spp.)-Oregon grape (Berberis spp.) habitat type :
mean percent cover
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8-9 10-15
undisturbed 15 2 6 11 13 1 5 9 1
disturbed 3 + _ + + 1 - + +
California huckleberry generally flowers from March to July or August
[9,27]. Fruit ripens from July to September [9,61]. Seasonal
development by geographic area is as follows [9,21,40,49,56]:
location flowering fruiting
CA March-May July-October
Mason Co., WA May-June ----
Pacific Northwest April-August ----
w OR April-August ----
SPECIES: Vaccinium ovatum
FIRE ECOLOGY OR ADAPTATIONS:
The role of fire in moist coastal forests, of which California
huckleberry is an integral understory component, is poorly known .
Many sites currently occupied by this shrub are believed to have burned
at relatively infrequent intervals during presettlement times .
Consequently, specific adaptations to fire may be poorly developed in
this species. California huckleberry often sprouts after disturbances
such as fire, but sprouting may primarily represent an adaptation to
herbivory or mechanical damage.
California huckleberry can sprout from structures such as roots or
root crowns after aboveground vegetation is destroyed by fire [29,65].
Limited seedling establishment may occasionally occur as birds and
mammals disperse seed from offsite. However, it is important to note
that seedling establishment is rare in most western huckleberries
(Vaccinium spp.) .
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:
Tall shrub, adventitious-bud root crown
Rhizomatous shrub, rhizome in soil
Initial-offsite colonizer (off-site, initial community)
SPECIES: Vaccinium ovatum
IMMEDIATE FIRE EFFECT ON PLANT:
Although aboveground foliage is commonly killed by fire, underground
portions of California huckleberry often survive [32,34]. Most western
huckleberries (Vaccinium spp.) appear to be particularly vulnerable to
hot, duff-consuming fires . However, older, decadent individuals
can sometimes be rejuvenated by light fires which do not damage
underground regenerative structures [37,39]. Seeds of most
huckleberries are susceptible to heat and are presumably killed by fire
PLANT RESPONSE TO FIRE:
Vegetative response: California huckleberry commonly sprouts after
aboveground foliage is damaged or destroyed by fire [29,32,34]. Most
species of huckleberry (Vaccinium spp.) regenerate from basal sprouts or
from underground structures such as roots or rhizomes . Westman and
Whittaker  report that California huckleberry has a "massive
root crown" rather than rhizomes. However, Hooven  notes that
postfire sprouting from roots can also occur.
Recovery of California huckleberry can be relatively rapid wherever
sprouting occurs. California huckleberry, Pacific dogwood (Cornus
nuttallii), vine maple, trailing blackberry (Rubus ursinus), Oregon
grape (Berberis spp.), and bracken fern (Pteridium aquilinum) dominated
within 1 year after a large August fire in a Douglas-fir forest of
western Oregon .
Seed: Seed banking does not appear to represent an important
regenerative strategy in western huckleberries. Some seed may be
brought onto the site by bird and mammal dispersers. Reestablishment by
seed, if it occurs at all, is likely to be slow.
DISCUSSION AND QUALIFICATION OF PLANT RESPONSE:
The Research Papers (Hamilton 2006a, Hamilton 2006b) and
Research Project Summary of Hamilton's studies provide information on
prescribed fire and postfire response of many plant species, including
FIRE MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS:
Wildlife: Evidence suggests that fire suppression may be having an
adverse impact on bear habitat in some areas [59,67]. Once productive
seral berry fields are now being invaded by conifers. Since plants
beneath a forest canopy generally produce few berries, fruit production
has been steadily declining . Logging treatments which include
severe soil scarification or slash burns may also reduce berry yields.
Even where timber harvest favors berry production, lack of cover in
early years can limit bear use. However, wildfires often create diverse
habitat mosaics  which incorporate elements of hiding cover and
favor bear use.
Prescribed fire: Flower buds tend to be more numerous on new shoots,
and periodic removal of old shoots can increase flower and fruit
production in many species of huckleberries (Vaccinium spp.) .
Prescribed fire has long been used to rejuvenate commercial lowbush
blueberry (V. angustifolium) fields and to increase fruit yield [37,39].
Spring burns, conducted when the soil is moist, are generally most
effective in promoting huckleberry fruit production [37,68].
Berry production: Berry production in most western huckleberries is
generally delayed for at least 5 years after fire . On some sites,
production may be reduced for 20 to 30 years or longer .
SPECIES: Vaccinium ovatum
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