Huckleberry and blueberry’s cousin

It’s not a huckleberry, and it’s not a blueberry. It’s Vaccinium cespitosum Michx., the dwarf bilberry.

Compared with its relatives, the dwarf bilberry could be considered a dwarf—it tends to grow dense mats close to the ground. The bilberry plant does this by making clones of itself which are all attached either directly or indirectly, to the original parent plant. Some mats have reached sizes several meters in diameter.

In Michigan, the dwarf bilberry was first discovered in 1980. Today, it only exists as a few individuals at nine sites located in four Michigan counties and Isle Royale. The bilberry prefers dry habitats with sandy soils in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The plant also resides in dry sand prairie mixed with dry northern forest accompanies by seasonal moisture that resembles meadow habitat.

Despite its threatened status within the state, the dwarf bilberry also spans Canada and the northern part of the United States, specifically Wisconsin, Minnesota, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. In addition, the bilberry has also migrated to Colorado, California and some southwestern states.

The bilberry has small, light pink or white cups for flowers which bloom from late May to early July. The flowers are supported by green foliage with small leaves shaped like rounded fan blades.

Bilberries are arranged on the plant in singles or pairs. Blueberries, in contrast, are found in a cluster and display larger leaves. Blueberries also exhibit a deep blue color while the skin of a bilberry is often almost black with a hint of blue. Fruit is visible from late June to August.

Though members may miss seeing the bell-shaped flowers and dark fruit of this plant in September, they may view a threatened species of Michigan that has continued to remain part of the “family” when the Michigan Nature Association visits sanctuaries on its annual Fall Adventure to the Keweenaw.

Don’t miss out on this and other adventures. Find out more about the Fall Adventure by visiting our Web page.

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