Black Huckleberry

Gaylussacia baccata

Black huckleberry, a colonial shub forming small to extensive clones, is very widespread, rival even to scrub oak in this area--especially in the fire-prone pitch pine forest and barrens, where it can become a sole proprietor, forming the pitch pine/huckleberry type of forest. It vigorously resprouts immediately after the fire, often becoming the only understory shrub for a while. In May huckleberry brightens the sparse forest with clusters of small orange or red flowers, which by the end of July become glossy black, sweet and juicy fruits (the Latin epithet baccata means “with berries”). Black huckleberry is an immediate relative of blue huckleberry (or dangleberry), Gaylussacia frondosa. Black huckleberry usually is more common and pays much more important role than blue huckleberry in this area (for example, in Myles Standish SF), yet not so in Alper Preserve, where both huckleberries are equally conspicuous. Black huckleberry is also often mixed with hillside blueberry (Vaccinium pallidum), both of them often attaining the same height, both producing edible fruit, so people neglect to recognize them as two different plants. Meanwhile, it is easy to tell huckleberry from blueberry even during the wintertime, when both stay leafless. Huckleberry produces “real” woody stems covered with dark bark. They are not flexible and easily break when bent. Blueberry, on the contrary, has flexible green stems that appear “not enough woody.”

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Pitch pine/huckleberry community after a recent fire. Massasoit Wildlife Refuge, Plymouth

May 11, Massasoit Wildlife Refuge, Plymouth

July 26, Myles Standish SF, Plymouth

November 5, Blue Hills Reservation, Quincy

The two relatives: blue huckleberry (left) and black huckleberry