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Kinnikinnick Native Plant Society

Focusing on native plants and conservation in North Idaho

Arctostaphylos uva-ursi

Original Species Paper by Lois Wythe 

Ericacae – Heath family 

(aka Bear Berry, Uva-ursi, Bear’s Grape, Mt. Box, etc.) 

Kinnikinnick, by whatever name it is called, is a native ground-cover plant much beloved by humans, the animals, birds, and even the hoary elfin butterfly, which lays its eggs on the foliage.  Native and prolific in  North Idaho, and admiring both its appearance and catchy name, it was a unanimous choice for the name of our Chapter of the Idaho Native Plant Society. 

It is pronounced KINNY-kin-ICK, or Kinn-ICK-innick, and comes from the aboriginal – most scholars say the Algonquin – meaning “smoking mixture.”  Although the plant was native here, it seems to have been the fur traders’ employees who brought the name west with them.  Its other common name, Bear Berry, comes from its genus ARCTOSTAPHYLOS, from the Greek word for bear – Arktos and staphylos – a bunch of grapes, which its berries resemble.  The species name of “uva-ursi” is apparently from the Latin “uva” (grape) and “ursus” (bear). 

Leaves, Flowers, Fruit:  It’s easy to spot a mat of ground-hugging, bright green, leathery, spoon-shaped evergreen leaves, urn-shaped flowers in spring, and its red berries in the fall.  The bark is papery, and its peels easily. 

Habitat:  Throughout zones 2 thru 9, it grows in low to alpine elevations on sandy, well-drained, exposed sites primarily.  Here in  North Idaho , it is frequently found on the edge of forest clearings.  (In the Arboretum, we have placed it in several different areas where it grows well, but it’s happiest on the dry, sandy edges of the rocky beds near the sidewalk entrance from the parking lot.)  It is a ground covering, mat forming, trailing shrub, usually not more than 6” high.  Loves the sun.