Bearberry

(Arctostaphylos uva-ursi)

Arctostaphylos uva-ursi is a small procumbent woody groundcover shrub 5–30 cm (2–12 in) high. The leaves are evergreen, remaining green for 1–3 years before falling. The fruit is a red berry.

The leaves are shiny, small, and feel thick and stiff. They are alternately arranged on the stems. Undersides of leaves are lighter green than on the tops. New stems can be red if the plant is in full sun, but are green in shadier areas. Older stems are brown. In spring, they have white or pink flowers.

Wild stands of Arctostaphylos uva-ursi can be dense, with heights rarely taller than 6 inches. Erect branching twigs emerge from long flexible prostrate stems, which are produced by single roots. The trailing stems will layer, sending out small roots periodically. The finely textured velvety branches are initially white to pale green, becoming smooth and red-brown with maturity. The small solitary three-scaled buds are dark brown.  The simple leaves of this broadleaf evergreen are alternately arranged on branches. Each leaf is held by a twisted leaf stalk, vertically. The leathery dark green leaves are an inch long and have rounded tips tapering back to the base. In fall, the leaves begin changing from a dark green to a reddish-green to purple, becoming pale on the underside.

Terminal clusters of small urn-shaped flowers bloom from May to June. The flowers are white to pink, and bear round, fleshy or mealy, bright red to pink fruits called drupes. The smooth, glossy skinned fruits range from 1⁄4 to 1⁄2 inch (6 to 13 mm) in diameter. The fruit persist on the plant into early winter. The fruits are bittersweet when raw, but sweeter when boiled and dried. Fruits are edible for humans, but are generally considered to be unpalatable.

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