Black huckleberries (Gaylussacia baccata) are deciduous cold-hardy shrubs that are found natively throughout a wide area of eastern North America. They are characterized by finely toothed leaves; a dense, spreading growth habit; and deep blue-purple edible berries. In the spring the branches of black huckleberry shrubs are adorned with small yellow or pink flowers that fruit in midsummer, and in the fall the leaves of black huckleberry shrubs turn a brilliant reddish-purple. These shrubs look similar to their cousin the blueberry (Vaccinium) plant but can be distinguished by the small resin spots on the underside of the leaves. Black huckleberries are the best-tasting berries out of the huckleberry family.
Black huckleberries are commonly found growing in acidic forests and along the edge of wooded areas. Their sweet berries are enjoyed by many birds and mammals and can be consumed by humans as well. They can be harvested and eaten fresh, frozen, or dried, and are commonly used in pies, jams, and baked goods. Black huckleberries can be easily swapped into nearly any recipe that utilizes blueberries.
|Botanical Name||Gaylussacia baccata|
|Common Name||Black huckleberry|
|Plant Type||Perennial shrub|
|Mature Size||5' tall|
|Sun Exposure||Part shade|
|Soil Type||Sandy, rocky|
|Flower Color||Yellow, pink|
|Native Area||North America|
How to Grow Black Huckleberries
Black huckleberries should be grown in a pot for at least 1-2 years in a peat-moss based mixture before being transplanted and grown in the garden. Once established, these shrubs are low-maintenance and don’t require much upkeep. These cold-hardy perennial shrubs spread easily by underground runners to form densely branched black huckleberry thickets.
Black huckleberries are native to areas of North America and are hardy in USDA zones 3 to 7. They are found natively in regions from Canada all the way south to Georgia.
The ideal location for black huckleberries is partly shaded but receives dappled light throughout the day. However, these shrubs can adapt to a variety of light conditions and can grow in full sun to full shade conditions. Plants that are grown in too much sun or too much shade may not fruit as easily.
Sandy, acidic soils are best for black huckleberry shrubs. They grow naturally in sandy and rocky soils but are adaptable to a wide range of soil conditions. Ideal soil pH is between 4.3-5.2.
Black huckleberry shrubs have moderate to dry water requirements, however, they require adequate water during the spring to support blooming and healthy fruiting. Generally, black huckleberries are considered to be drought-tolerant but benefit from regular watering.
Temperature and Humidity
These shrubs are hardy from USDA zones 3 to 7 and can tolerate temperatures as low as -35 degrees Celsius (-30 degrees Fahrenheit). In fact, black huckleberries need to experience low night-time temperatures in the spring for healthy flowering and fruiting.
Generally, black huckleberry shrubs do not require regular fertilizing. However, they appreciate acidic soil and if their soil is not acidic enough black huckleberries benefit from amendments to correct the soil pH.
Additionally, black huckleberries can be fed with a balanced fertilizer, such as a 10-10-10, in the spring to support new growth and flowering. Use a slow-release or granular fertilizer according to package instructions.
Propagating Black Huckleberries
Black huckleberries can be propagated by division and from seed. However, black huckleberry seeds are short-lived and difficult to germinate, so it is much easier to propagate these shrubs by division. Separate healthy plants by dividing up large established huckleberry thickets. Transplant directly into the garden.
The name ‘huckleberry’ is a general name that is commonly used to refer to several different fruiting plants in the family Ericaceae. These plants fall into the closely-related Gaylussacia and Vaccinium genera. Closely-related huckleberry varieties include:
- Vaccinium parvifolium (red huckleberry)
- Vaccinium ovatum (evergreen huckleberry)
- Vaccinium deliciosum (blueleaf huckleberry)
- Vaccinium membranaceum (thinleaf huckleberry)
Harvesting Black Huckleberries
Black huckleberries are ready for harvest by midsummer. They can be easily harvested by hand or with a berry harvesting ‘rake’ that sifts the berries off the branches while leaving the leaves untouched. Enjoy black huckleberries as a sweeter blueberry substitute in baked goods, jams, and more!