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Gardening in the Rainy Zone.
KINNIKINICK, COMMON BEARBERRY
North Eurasia, North America.
Evergreen sub shrub.
Sunset zones: 1-9, 14-24.
USDA zones: 2-6.
Height: 4 inches (10 cm).
Width: Spread up to 20 inches (50 cm).
Urn-shaped white flowers with a blush of pink on small racemes with three to fifteen flowers per cluster.
Leathery, obovate, dark green leaves.
Full sun to partial shade.
Moist but well-drained, humus rich, acidic soil.
Layering in autumn.
Semi-ripe cuttings in summer.
Divide in spring.
Prune to keep in bounds after flowers fade, as it flowers on old wood.
Rainy Side Notes
This native plant will root wherever the tips touch the soil. It spreads, forming a mat that is easy enough to keep in check by digging out the plant whenever it goes out from its designated spot. Kinnikinick is useful for controlling erosion on banks as well as an attractive plant for covering ground. The plant attracts bees and I have observed hummingbirds at the flowers. In addition, the berry lasts well on the plant; it is a good food source for wildlife during winter. The bright red fruits are eaten by songbirds, game birds, grouse, wild turkey, deer, elk, and small mammals. Bears eat the berries also; however, I doubt you are looking to attract that kind of wildlife to your garden.
It is a common sub shrub in our Pacific Northwest region and utilized by Native Americans for a number of uses. The Haida used it as a diuretic for kidney diseases and urinary tract infections. Many of the coastal natives used a hollowed-out gooseberry ( Ribes) stem to smoke the leaves of Kinnikinick in a smoking mixture. Native Americans fried or dried the berries for edible use. The Okanogan-Colville cooked the berries with venison or salmon, dried them into cakes and ate the cakes with salmon eggs. While the berries themselves are not tasty, they are used in jellies, jams and sauces. The berry is also useful as an emergency food if there is nothing else available to eat. In Russia and Sweden, they use the leaves for tanning leather, because of the high tannin produced.
When establishing kinnikinick in the garden, mulch well in between the plants to keep weeds to a minimum, until the ground cover is thick enough to suppress weeds on its own. This plant looks good all year round and is beautiful weaving in and out of native shrubs. It is very drought tolerant once established. An easy care plant, kinnikinick adds value to your garden. Use this instead of a cotoneasterfor a much prettier ground cover that benefits our native wildlife.
Photographed in author's garden.