Knick knick ground cover

Bearberry Plant Info: Learn About Growing Bearberry Ground Cover

If you live in the northern half of the United States, you’ve probably passed by bearberry and never even knew it. This plain-looking little ground cover, also known by the name kinnikinnik, is surprisingly popular with landscapers and homeowners who need a low-growing perennial that requires little care. If you have a need for a carefree ground cover, take a look at the bearberry. Keep reading for more bearberry plant info.

What is a Bearberry?

Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) is a low-growing ground cover that usually tops out between 6 and 12 inches. The flexible stems sport teardrop-shaped, leathery leaves in dark green. You’ll find a small amount of white or pale pink waxy flowers between March and June.

Bearberry grows groups of cherry red berries that measure just under ½ inch across. A lot of wildlife will eat these berries, but the plant gets its name because bears absolutely love them.

Growing Bearberry Ground Cover

If you have a large plot of poor soil and need to landscape it, then bearberry ground cover is your plant. It thrives on soil poor in nutrients and sandy soil that has a hard time supporting other ground covers.

Plant it in full sun or partial shade, in spots where it will have space to spread. While bearberry is slow to grow in the first year, it will spread rapidly once established to create mats that fill a lot of space.

Since bearberry will slowly spread over your landscaping in the beginning, you can propagate it to create more plants if you want to fill in the spots quicker. Start new plants by clipping off stems and dipping them into rooting hormone powder, then planting them in moist sand to root. A slower method is growing bearberries by collecting and planting the seeds. Store them in the refrigerator for about 3 months before planting, and rough up the outside of each seed with a file before you bury it in the soil.

Use bearberry on hillsides or over rocky ground that needs coverage. It’s ideal for use as ground cover underneath shrubs or around trees. Plant it along a rock wall and it will cascade down over the edge, softening the look of your landscape perimeter. If you live near the ocean, bearberry is salt-resistant, so use it as a seaside ground cover.

Once established, bearberry care is minimal with exceptional to occasional watering.

Bearberry

Bearberry, (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi), also called kinnikinnick, flowering prostrate evergreen shrubs of the heath family (Ericaceae), occurring widely throughout the northern reaches of Europe, Asia, and North America in rocky and sandy woods and in open areas. It has woody stems that are often 1.5–1.8 metres (5–6 feet) long. Roots develop from the stem, and the plant spreads, forming a broad, massive ground cover. The foliage turns bronzy in winter. The leaf margins are rolled and fringed with hairs. The flowers, which open early in the spring, may be white, pink, or pink-tipped in colour; the flowers are in the shape of a narrow-mouthed bell and are borne in small clusters at the ends of the twigs. The berries are red.

  • bearberryBearberry, or kinnikinnick (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi), in North Cascades National Park, Washington. © Walter Siegmund
  • The fruit and leaves of the bearberry shrub (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi).Joan E. Rahn/Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.
  • The flowers and leaves of the bearberry shrub (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi).Ingmar Holmasen

Plant Database

Glase, Terry

Arctostaphylos uva-ursi

Kinnikinnick, Red Bearberry, Kinnikinnik

USDA Native Status: L48 (N), AK (N), CAN (N), GL (N), SPM (N)

Red bearberry is a trailing, evergreen shrub with paddle-shaped leaves on flexible branches. The thick, leathery leaves, rolled under at the edges, are yellow-green in spring, dark-green in summer, and reddish-purple in the fall. Nodding clusters of small, bell-shaped, pink or white flowers occur on bright-red stems. Flowers in racemes on short branches. Bright-red berries succeed the flowers and persist into winter. This ground-trailing shrub has the papery, reddish, exfoliating bark typical of woody plants in northern climates. It is frequently seen as a ground cover in sandy areas such as the New Jersey pine barrens. It is very common on Cape Cod, where it covers vast areas in open, sandy, pine-studded communities. Its complete range is the largest of any in its genus, and it is the only Arctostaphylos species to occur outside of North America, ranging across northern Eurasia and across northern North America south to the mountains of Virginia, California, Arizona, and New Mexico, with isolated populations in the mountains of Guatemala in Central America. It is a hardy shrub for landscaping rocky or sandy sites

In Greek arctos is bear and staphyle grape, whereas in Latin uva is a bunch of grapes and ursus is bear. The berries are indeed eaten by bears, as the name redundantly indicates. Kinnikinnick, an Algonquin word for many tobacco substitutes, is most frequently applied to this species, which also had many medicinal uses, including the alleged control of several sexually transmitted diseases. An astringent tea can be made by steeping the dried leaves in boiling water (sometimes used as a laxative). Bearberry is long lived, but grows very slowly. It has no serious disease or insect problems. A similar species found in the Cascade Mountains and Sierra Nevada, Pinemat Manzanita (A. nevadensis), has a tiny sharp point at the tip of the leaf. One other species, Alpine Bearberry (A. alpina), is found on New England mountaintops.

From the Image Gallery

Plant Characteristics

Duration: Perennial
Habit: Shrub
Leaf Retention: Evergreen
Leaf Arrangement: Alternate
Leaf Complexity: Simple
Leaf Shape: Obovate
Leaf Margin: Entire
Breeding System: Flowers Bisexual
Inflorescence: Panicle , Raceme
Size Notes: Height 6-12 inches, spread up to 15 feet.
Leaf: Glossy dark green, reddish in the winter.
Autumn Foliage: yes
Flower: Flowers urn-shaped to 1/3 inch.
Fruit: Bright red 1/4 inch across

Size Class: 1-3 ft.

Bloom Information

Bloom Color: White , Pink
Bloom Time: Mar , Apr , May , Jun
Bloom Notes: Flowers urn-shaped, waxy, white tinged with pink.

Distribution

USA: AK , AZ , CA , CO , CT , DE , IA , ID , IL , IN , MA , ME , MI , MN , MT , ND , NH , NJ , NM , NV , NY , OH , OR , PA , RI , SD , UT , VA , VT , WA , WI , WY
Canada: AB , BC , MB , NB , NL , NS , ON , PE , QC , SK
Native Distribution: Northern, coastal, and montane Eurasia to northern, coastal, and montane North America: Lab. to AK, s. to VA, extreme n.e. IN, n. IL, CA, AZ, and NM, with isolated populations in the mountains of Guatemala
Native Habitat: Rocky, open woods; dry, sandy hills; mountainous regions

Growing Conditions

Water Use: Low
Light Requirement: Sun , Part Shade , Shade
Soil Moisture: Dry , Moist
Soil pH: Acidic (pHCaCO3 Tolerance: Medium
Drought Tolerance: High
Cold Tolerant: yes
Heat Tolerant: yes
Soil Description: Rocky or sandy, acid soils.
Conditions Comments: Soil should not be compacted around the plants and they should not be fertilized.

Benefit

Use Wildlife: The fruit is edible but mealy and tasteless; it is much favored by birds and other wildlife.
Use Food: The Okanogan-Colville cooked the berries with venison or salmon, or dried them into cakes and ate the cakes with salmon eggs. Various indigenous groups in California prepared a cider-like beverage from the berries.
Use Medicinal: The Haida used it as a diuretic for kidney diseases and urinary tract infections.
Use Other: First Nations used to smoke this before tobacco was available.
Conspicuous Flowers: yes
Interesting Foliage: yes
Attracts: Butterflies , Hummingbirds
Larval Host: Hoary Elfin (Callophrys polia), Brown Elfin (C. augustinus), Freija Fritillary (Boloria freija)

Value to Beneficial Insects

Special Value to Native Bees
This information was provided by the Pollinator Program at The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.

Butterflies and Moths of North America (BAMONA)

Rocky Mountain clearwing
(Hemaris senta)
Adult Food Source
Learn more at BAMONA
Hoary Elfin
(Callophrys polios)
Larval Host
Learn more at BAMONA
Freija Fritillary
(Boloria freija)
Larval Host
Learn more at BAMONA
Brown Elfin
(Callophrys augustinus)
Larval Host
Learn more at BAMONA
Elf
(Microtia elva)
Larval Host
Learn more at BAMONA

Propagation

Propagation Material: Seeds , Softwood Cuttings
Description: They are very difficult to transplant from the wild, but softwood cuttings are readily rooted. The surest means of propagation is by treated cuttings rooted in sand or layering.
Seed Collection: The outer fleshy part of the fruit may be removed by macerating the fruits with water and separating the nutlets by flotation or air-screening.
Seed Treatment: Remove seed from pulp. Plant outside in fall, 3/4 deep. Seeds germinate the second year after sowing. Seeds have impermeable seed coats and dormant embryos; acid scarification for 3-6 hours followed by 2-3 months of warm and 2-3 months of cold stratification.
Commercially Avail: yes

Maintenance: Prune to thin out dead or dying wood.

Find Seed or Plants

Find seed sources for this species at the Native Seed Network.

View propagation protocol from Native Plants Network.

Mr. Smarty Plants says

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July 21, 2008
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June 17, 2008
I’m seeking a small-medium, ornamental, fairly compact, evergreen shrub to complement my front yard woodland wildflower garden. I want a shrub that will flank both sides of my front porch steps. I wa…
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Black leaves and dying kinnikinnick (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi)
December 16, 2007
My kinnikinnick has developed dark leaf spots and, in some cases the entire leaf has turned black or entire plants have turned black and died off. I’m worried about leaf spot, root rot and leaf gall…
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National Wetland Indicator Status

Region: AGCP AK AW CB EMP GP HI MW NCNE WMVE
Status: UPL UPL FACU UPL UPL UPL UPL FACU

This information is derived from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers National Wetland Plant List, Version 3.1 (Lichvar, R.W. 2013. The National Wetland Plant List: 2013 wetland ratings. Phytoneuron 2013-49: 1-241).Click herefor map of regions.

From the National Organizations Directory

According to the species list provided by Affiliate Organizations, this plant is on display at the following locations:
Santa Barbara Botanic Garden – Santa Barbara, CA
Delaware Nature Society – Hockessin, DE
United States Botanic Garden – Washington, DC
Natural Biodiversity – Johnstown, PA
Native Seed Network – Corvallis, OR
Mt. Cuba Center – Hockessin, DE

Bibliography

Bibref 1186 – Field Guide to Moths of Eastern North America (2005) Covell, C.V., Jr.
Bibref 1185 – Field Guide to Western Butterflies (Peterson Field Guides) (1999) Opler, P.A. and A.B. Wright
Bibref 841 – Native Alternatives to Invasive Plants (2006) Burrell, C. C.
Bibref 723 – Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast: Washington, Oregon, British Columbia, and Alaska (2004) Pojar, J. & A. MacKinnon
Bibref 1218 – Tending the Wild: Native American Knowledge and the Management of California’s Natural Resources (2006) Anderson, M. Kat

Search More Titles in Bibliography

From the Archive

Wildflower Newsletter 1987 VOL. 4, NO.2 – Wildflowers Provide Activity in Summer, Beautiful Colorado Beckons, What is Rese…
Wildflower Newsletter 1994 VOL. 11, NO.6 – Wildflower Center Featured Non-Profit in Neiman Marcus Christmas Book, Dana Leav…

Additional resources

USDA: Find Arctostaphylos uva-ursi in USDA Plants
FNA: Find Arctostaphylos uva-ursi in the Flora of North America (if available)
Google: Search Google for Arctostaphylos uva-ursi

Metadata

Record Modified: 2013-06-21
Research By: TWC Staff

Go back

Kinnikinnick (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi)-Leaf Gall

See:

Azalea (Rhododendron spp.)-Leaf and Flower Gall

Cause Large white to brown leaf and flower galls are caused by Exobasidium spp. Several species have been reported from the Pacific Northwest including E. vaccinii, which is common on azalea as well as other Arctostaphylos spp., E. arctostaphyli, E. uva-ursi and E. vaccinii-uliginosi. It is not clear if isolates from azalea can infect kinnikinnick or visa versa. An aphid (Manzanita leaf fall aphid) causes smaller, red leaf galls. See the PNW Insect Management Handbook for more information.

Symptoms Initially, infected plant parts show a thickening and then gradually become fleshy in appearance. Infected leaves and flowers thicken into greenish to pinkish galls. As the galls mature, they become covered with a dense white coating of fungal spores. Galls finally become brown and woody. Healthy plants can easily tolerate considerable amounts of galling without serious damage.

Cultural control

  • Avoid overhead watering or limit it to times when the foliage can dry quickly.
  • Pick and destroy thickened, fleshy leaves and flowers before the white fungal spores appear.
  • Remove these old galls from plants before bloom and flushes of new growth.
  • Space plants and prune to reduce humidity.
  • The cultivar Massachusetts is reported resistant to leaf gall.

Landscape Plants

  • Evergreen ground cover, 6-12+ inches (15-30 cm), branches root where they touch the soil, mat-forming. Exfoliating bark on older stems. Leaves alternate, simple, obovate-oblong, 0.5-3.5 cm long, displayed evenly on stem, lustrous dark green above, lighter below, margins have a fringe of minute hairs (ciliate), one obvious bundle trace in the leaf scar. Flowers, perfect, white-tinged pink, urn-shaped, in terminal nodding racemes. Fleshy fruit (drupe), bright red, 6 mm diam.; may not set fruit.
  • Sun or partial shade. Difficult to transplant. Does best in poor, sandy, infertile, acid soils. There are reports that it grows well on limestone rock. Good salt tolerance.
  • A number of cultivars, including:
    • ‘Emerald Carpet’ – dark green leaves, grows to 25-45 cm, appears to accept shade.
    • ‘Massachusetts’ – a popular, flat growing, fruitful cultivar developed at Oregon State University by Robert Tichnor.
    • ‘Point Reyes’ – oval, close set leaves, produces few fruit, has heat and drought tolerance.
    • ‘San Bruno Mountain’ – low growing, large, thick, glossy leaves, large red fruit.
    • ‘Vancouver Jade’ – glossy green leaves, turn red-bronze in winter, low growing, to 15 cm, but not as wide spreading as ‘Massachusetts’.
    • ‘Woods Compact’ – compact form with dark green leaves, red branches and pink flowers.
  • Hardy to USDA Zone 2 (varies) Circumboreal covering Europe, Asia, North America, south to Virginia and N. California.
  • uva-ursi: bear’s grape (uva, grape; ursi, bear, in the family Ursidae).
  • Kinnikinnik: is thought to be an Algonquian term meaning, ‘smoke mixture’. The dried leaves were smoked by a number of Native American groups living along the Pacific Ocean over the past two centuries, but there is little evidence of these groups smoking it prior to their contact with Europeans (Pojar and MacKinnon, 1994).

Arctostaphylos Species, Bearberry, Kinnikinnick, Pinemat Manzanita

Category:

Shrubs

Water Requirements:

Unknown – Tell us

Sun Exposure:

Full Sun

Foliage:

Evergreen

Provides Winter Interest

Foliage Color:

Dark/Black

Height:

6-12 in. (15-30 cm)

12-18 in. (30-45 cm)

Spacing:

36-48 in. (90-120 cm)

Hardiness:

USDA Zone 3a: to -39.9 °C (-40 °F)

USDA Zone 3b: to -37.2 °C (-35 °F)

USDA Zone 4a: to -34.4 °C (-30 °F)

USDA Zone 4b: to -31.6 °C (-25 °F)

USDA Zone 5a: to -28.8 °C (-20 °F)

USDA Zone 5b: to -26.1 °C (-15 °F)

USDA Zone 6a: to -23.3 °C (-10 °F)

USDA Zone 6b: to -20.5 °C (-5 °F)

USDA Zone 7a: to -17.7 °C (0 °F)

USDA Zone 7b: to -14.9 °C (5 °F)

Where to Grow:

Unknown – Tell us

Danger:

N/A

Bloom Color:

Pale Pink

Bloom Characteristics:

This plant is attractive to bees, butterflies and/or birds

Bloom Size:

Unknown – Tell us

Bloom Time:

Mid Spring

Late Spring/Early Summer

Other details:

Unknown – Tell us

Soil pH requirements:

6.1 to 6.5 (mildly acidic)

Patent Information:

Non-patented

Propagation Methods:

From semi-hardwood cuttings

From seed; direct sow outdoors in fall

From seed; winter sow in vented containers, coldframe or unheated greenhouse

From seed; stratify if sowing indoors

By simple layering

Seed Collecting:

Allow unblemished fruit to ripen; clean and dry seeds

Regional

This plant has been said to grow in the following regions:

Anchorage, Alaska

Redding, California

Colorado Springs, Colorado

Estes Park, Colorado

Parker, Colorado

Lisle, Illinois

Greene, Maine

Halifax, Massachusetts

Mashpee, Massachusetts

Nantucket, Massachusetts

Beaver Island, Michigan

Dearborn Heights, Michigan

Grand Rapids, Michigan

Saint Helen, Michigan

Piedmont, Missouri

Munsonville, New Hampshire

Oceanside, New York

Elizabeth City, North Carolina

Eugene, Oregon

Grants Pass, Oregon

Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania

Leesburg, Virginia

Danville, Washington

Sequim, Washington

Tacoma, Washington

Valley, Washington

Westfield, Wisconsin

show all

Bearberry in bloom

Bearberry in bloom

(Photo courtesy of NetPS Plant Finder)

Bearberry flowers

Bearberry flowers

(Photo courtesy of NetPS Plant Finder)

Bearberry foliage

Bearberry foliage

(Photo courtesy of NetPS Plant Finder)

Height: 8 inches

Spread: 3 feet

Sunlight:

Hardiness Zone: 1b

Other Names: Kinnikinik

Description:

A truly hardy groundcover with special growing requirements; acidic, light sandy soil; has interesting fall color, and is extremely low growing

Ornamental Features

Bearberry features dainty nodding shell pink bell-shaped flowers at the ends of the branches in mid spring. It has forest green foliage. The tiny glossy round leaves turn burgundy in fall. It produces red berries from late summer to late fall.

Landscape Attributes

Bearberry is a multi-stemmed evergreen shrub with a ground-hugging habit of growth. Its relatively fine texture sets it apart from other landscape plants with less refined foliage.

This is a relatively low maintenance shrub, and should not require much pruning, except when necessary, such as to remove dieback. It has no significant negative characteristics.

Bearberry is recommended for the following landscape applications;

  • Groundcover

Planting & Growing

Bearberry will grow to be about 8 inches tall at maturity, with a spread of 3 feet. It tends to fill out right to the ground and therefore doesn’t necessarily require facer plants in front. It grows at a slow rate, and under ideal conditions can be expected to live for approximately 20 years.

This shrub does best in full sun to partial shade. It is very adaptable to both dry and moist growing conditions, but will not tolerate any standing water. It is considered to be drought-tolerant, and thus makes an ideal choice for a low-water garden or xeriscape application. It is very fussy about its soil conditions and must have sandy, acidic soils to ensure success, and is subject to chlorosis (yellowing) of the leaves in alkaline soils, and is able to handle environmental salt. It is somewhat tolerant of urban pollution. This species is native to parts of North America.

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