Scientific Name: Arctostaphylos uva-ursi
Common Name: Bearberry, Kinnikinic
Common Species/Varieties: Alpine, Common, Red
Common Colors: Most Bearberry plants have similar colors
Plant Type: Shrub
Annual or Perennial: Perennial
Hardiness Zone: 2-7 USDA
Bloom Season: Spring
Grows Best In: Full sun to light shade
Fun Fact: Bearberry gets its name thanks to the fact that bears love the red berries that grow on this shrub through Spring.
Bearberry is somewhat more finicky when it comes to the type of soil we have in Colorado, but when you’re looking for a plant that will do well in a pot or planter, this is the plant! Bearberry, or Kinnikinnick, likes a sandy, somewhat gravelly soil and prefers to be on the dryer side. This is because this plant is rhizomatous, meaning that at its base there are little bulbs that retain water when the soil is dry. Think of these bulbs as the leaves of a succulent that hold moisture in rather than having roots like many plants that take water from the soil as the plant needs it.
Bearberry can grow to between 6 inches and 1 foot high, and makes a great low-profile ground cover in sandy, loamy places. It grows in a shrub-like structure, and can be pruned and shaped.
Bearberry is a great plant for all-season interest. Its active-season foliage is bright green, waxy, and tear shaped. It sprouts beautiful little flowers in the Spring that look similar to blueberry flowers. In the Fall the leaves turn a coppery color, and the red berries that bears love so much can stay on the shrub well into Spring. Its bark also provides winter interest even after leaves have fallen!
Bearberry berries are not usually eaten by humans, but they have been used in tinctures and various herbal remedies for bladder problems and some skin conditions. Always check with a physician before using an herbal product! Bearberry was also used by Native Americans to create a yellow dye. Dried Bearberry leaves have a scent similar to autumn leaves combined with pine, and were used as a smoke blend addition by Native Americans, hence the name “Kinnikinic,” which means “smoking mixture” in the Algonquin language.