Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center - The University of Texas at Austin information

 Native Plant Database

Arctostaphylos uva-ursi

Kinnikinnick, Red bearberry, Kinnikinnik

Ericaceae (Heath Family)

Arctostaphylos uva-ursi (Kinnikinnick)
Glase, Terry
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.

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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: Raceme , Panicle
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.


USA: AK , AZ , CA , CO , CT , DE , ID , IL , IN , IA , ME , MA , MI , MN , MT , NV , NH , NJ , NM , NY , ND , OH , OR , PA , RI , SD , UT , VT , VA , 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: Moist , Dry
Soil pH: Acidic (pH<6.8)
CaCO3 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.


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: Hummingbirds , Butterflies
Larval Host: Hoary Elfin (Callophrys polia), Brown Elfin (C. augustinus), Freija Fritillary (Boloria freija)

Butterflies and Moths of North America (BAMONA)

Arctostaphylos uva-ursi is a larval host and/or nectar source for:
Rocky Mountain clearwing
(Hemaris senta)

Food Source
Learn more at BAMONA
Hoary Elfin
(Callophrys polios)

Larval Host
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Freija Fritillary
(Boloria freija)

Larval Host
Learn more at BAMONA
Brown Elfin
(Callophrys augustinus)

Larval Host
Learn more at BAMONA
(Microtia elva)

Larval Host
Learn more at BAMONA

Last Update: 2013-06-21