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This broadleaf evergreen groundcover has year-round appeal, and it’s especially noticeable in winter with its tiny burgundy leaves and deep-pink fruits that are beloved by bears and birds alike. In spring, small, urn-shaped, white to pinkish flowers bloom amidst deep-green foliage, attracting hummingbirds and other pollinators. With trailing stems and short, upright branches, it creeps slowly by surface rhizomes to form a dense mat that’s typically 12 inches tall and up to 15 feet wide. In the right conditions, this is a satisfying alternative to invasives such as Vinca minor and Pachysandra terminalus. Also known as hog cranberry and sandberry, this low-maintenance shrub prefers acidic soils that are sandy, light textured, infertile, and on the dry side. Too much compaction or moistness can lead to root disease. Due to its soil requirements, a container might be the best choice for common bearberry in some landscapes. It tolerates drought and road salt and performs better in full or part sun and in climates with wet winters and dry summers. Choose the location carefully, because it doesn’t like to be transplanted.


Common bearberry is in the same family (Ericaceae) as blueberry and cranberry. The fruits are edible in low amounts, although they are not popular with humans due to their bland flavor and mealy texture (aka mealberry). Another common name, kinnikinick (an Algonquian word for “mixture”), refers to the use of the fruits in a mixture of plants that was used by Native Americans as a substitute for tobacco or for medicinal purposes. The scientific name comes from the Greek arctos, meaning “bear,” and staphyle, which means “grape” (another common name is bear’s grape). Common bearberry is considered extirpated in Ohio, probably due to the destruction of natural beach habitats and the invasion of larger woody species.


Native habitats include rocky sites, open woods, dry forests, and shores of the Great Lakes.  Try common bearberry in containers, meadows, naturalized areas, and borders; on slopes and banks; and along walkways. Bearberry fits the personality of many types of gardens, especially rock and winter gardens.


Plant Characteristics:

Grows 6-14” tall and 3-15’ wide.


Performs best in full to part sun.


Prefers dry, acidic, sandy, or rocky soils.


Whitish-pink flowers are about ¼” long and hang in terminal clusters. Green drupes are ½” wide and ripen to pinkish red in July and August.


Alternate, 1”, leathery, dark green leaves are teardrop shaped with rounded tips and slightly hairy, pale-green undersides. Color is yellow green in springtime, dark green in summer, and bronze or reddish purple in winter.


Central trunk develops reddish, papery, exfoliating bark as it matures.


Wildlife Value:

Host plant for 223 species of Lepidoptera larvae, including beggar moth (adult pictured here), hoary and brown elfins, and freija fritellary butterflies.. Butterflies and hummingbirds are attracted to the flowers. The fruit is eaten by a plethora of species, including birds, small mammals, grouses, turkeys, and deer. Small mammals and ground-nesting song birds use the plant for cover.


Medicinal, Edible, and Other Uses:

Traditionally, the leaves have been used in teas, liquid extracts, medicinal tea bags, and tablets to treat bladder problems, UTIs, and itchy scalps. Common bearberry appears to be relatively safe, although large doses may cause nausea, vomiting, fever, chills, and back pain.


Warning: Caution should be used in people who have kidney disease or who are pregnant or breastfeeding.

Bearberry, Arctostaphylos uva-ursi

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