Evergreen Huckleberry (Vaccinium ovatum)
Evergreen Huckleberry is one of numerous familiar members of the heather family in the Pacific Northwest. It grows commonly in the shade of big forest conifers but also in the open in sandy beach soils. Like other huckleberries and blueberries, as well as most other heathers, this species thrives on acidic soils. It seems to grow equally well in shade or bright sunlight and is one of the colonizing shrubs on coastal sand dunes.
Growing up to several meters in height, this vigorous shrub is easily recognized by the small, pointed, glossy-green evergreen leaves with finely serrated edges and the big, black berries that appear in summer and may remain on the plant into early winter. The flowers are urn-shaped, as in so many other ericaceous species, and pink.
As in most Vaccinium, the berries are not only edible but very tasty. They are quite attractive to birds, the natural dispersers, but any fruit-eating mammal that comes along, including humans, will stop for a snack. Black Bears may inhabit a huckleberry patch until it is stripped clean.
Birds are better dispersers of seeds from edible fruits than mammals, just because a flying animal can cover greater distances in the same time. A bird may eat a berry and travel a kilometer or two (or even farther, if in migration) before it defecates the still-fertile seed. A typical mammal will cover much less ground. Obviously, both types of dispersers may deposit that seed in favorable or unfavorable habitat for the species, but the bird’s seed would more likely be away from competing mature huckleberries.
The shiny leaves and edible fruits of Evergreen Huckleberry make it an attractive plant for native gardens, and it is much grown in horticulture. There are many online recipes for huckleberry jam!