- Author: Betty Homer
I recently returned from vacationing at Yellowstone National Park, both on the Montana and Wyoming sides of the park. Although the park is infinitely fascinating and I strongly recommend that everyone visit at least once, the topic of this blog pertains to another well-known and beloved mainstay in the area known as the huckleberry (the two most popular varieties being the globe huckleberry and the big huckleberry known as Vaccinium globulare and Vaccinium membranaceum, respectively). Although residents of Montana and Wyoming may cringe or disagree with this characterization, to this native Californian, wild huckleberries taste much like the blueberries to which we are accustomed (indeed, a restaurant employee of a park concessionaire said to me that to him, the huckleberry was essentially a “mountain blueberry”). Big and globe huckleberries are usually picked from May to July in the mountains where elevation stands between 3,500 and 7,200 feet. They tend to establish themselves years after a fire has swept through an area. The harvesters of such fruit even have a unique name—they are called "huckleberriers." A few years back, huckleberries were selling between $35-40 a gallon. Huckleberry products line the shelves of gift stores and supermarkets in Montana and Wyoming. As with most berries, huckleberries can be made into syrup, used in baked goods and ice cream, preserves and salad dressings.
Although we cannot experience true huckleberries locally apart from ordering products on-line, the closest thing we have to it here is a perennial shrub called the serviceberry aka shadeberry, Juneberry, or Saskatoon (Family: Rosaceae; Genus: Amelanchier). Service berry plant starts can be found at well-stocked nurseries in the Bay Area. It is my understanding that the serviceberry is an easier plant to grow than blueberries, and may be a prolific producer under ideal conditions starting in year 2 (shrub grows to 3' tall and will send out runners). If you are a berry enthusiast, consider the serviceberry for your garden.