Arctostaphylos uva-ursi

Arctostaphylos uva-ursi is a trailing, prostrate shrub of the Ericaceae plant family, reaching between 5 and 15 cm in height. Each reddish brown branch is covered in a flaky epidermis reaching 50 to 100 cm long, frequently rooting along the way. Spatulate, evergreen, glossy, dark green leaves are arranged alternately along the branches. Light pink to white colored, urn shaped flowers are borne in racemes at the branch tips in May and June. The flowers mature into bright red drupes, 7 to 10 mm in diameter.

A. uva-ursi is a common site in well drained areas of open to wooded sites from the foothills to alpine zones of Alaska, south to coastal California, Idaho, Montant and in the Rocky Mountains south to New Mexico.

The berries were used commonly to make a tea, though prolonged consumption may cause stomach and liver condition, and can also cause uterine contractions in pregnant women. The high tannin content in the leaves was exploited in tanning hides. The leaves were also smoked, alone are in combination with tobacco to extend the supply.

Photo was taken at Humbug Spires Recreation area near Divide, Montanta.

The meaing of the latin name can be broken into the root works. Arctostaphylos can be dissected into ‘arctos&rswuo; and ‘staphylos’ meaning ‘bear’ and ‘a bunch of grapes’ in reference to the animal that enjoys the berries and the appearance of the berries at the ends of the branches. The specific epithet can similarly be broken in ‘uva’ and ‘ursus’ meaning ‘grape’ and ‘bear’. Not surprisingly, the common name of A. uva-ursi is bearberry.

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References

Hitchcock, C.L. and A. Cronquist (1994) Flora of the Pacific Northwest, University of Washington Press, Seattle and London.

Kershaw, L., A. MacKinnon and J. Pojar (1998) Plants of the Rocky Mountains. Lone Pine Publishing, Washing, Canada.

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