Huckleberry plants live best on the slopes of volcanic mountains, well at least those that aren't erupting. Soil in these areas is acidic. In the Pacific Northwest, where huckleberry plants are common, they thrive when there is a blanket of snow in winter, so this is best at elevations above 2000 feet. Evergreen, coniferous forests grow above the huckleberries.
Since these magical conditions are hard to find on farms or in backyards, huckleberry plants grow best in the wild. But home gardeners have cared for the plants in their own yards, and Pacific Northwest nurseries do offer them, especially for those looking to foster a wildlife habitat.
Small dark red, blue, or purple berries appear in August or September. At only 1/2 inch in diameter, the berries are so tiny that the word "huckleberry" was slang for "tiny" in the 19th century.
One berry only grows between each stem and leaf, an area called the axil. Very sweet to tart tasting, they are food for bears, deer, and birds--as well as people.
Lewis and Clark, on their mapping and exploration quest across the United States, described the huckleberry plant, gathering information about it from local people. A sign at Fort Clatsop National Park, a place where the expedition spent the winter at the end of its journey, commemorates these notes next to an Evergreen Huckleberry. I enjoyed this example of a 19th century knowledge quest.
It's also fun simply to find a huckleberry item on a menu, a tasting quest. Twigs Bistro and Bar, here outside Portland and with several other locations, offers a great Huckleberry Lemonade. The little berries float around, and they are super-sweet compared to lemon.
The huckleberry is the state fruit of Idaho. I didn't even realize that some states had symbolic fruits so this was a terrific fact to learn for two reasons. Students at Southside Elementary School in Bonner County suggested this honor in 2000.
The prestige of the huckleberry extends beyond Idaho. The Cooking Channel has named huckleberry pie a Favorite State Food of Montana, based on viewer feedback. In Oregon, marionberries are taking top honor, but I can attest that huckleberries appear on menus and in guideposts of nature trails. A next goal is to photograph a marionberry or marionberry plant....