Arctostaphylos uva-ursi

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Arctostaphylos uva-ursi
Arctostaphylos uva-ursi 25924.JPG

Secure (NatureServe)[1]
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Eudicots
Clade: Asterids
Order: Ericales
Family: Ericaceae
Genus: Arctostaphylos
A. uva-ursi
Binomial name
Arctostaphylos uva-ursi

Arctostaphylos uva-ursi is a plant species of the genus Arctostaphylos widely distributed across circumboreal regions of the subarctic Northern Hemisphere.[2] Kinnikinnick (First Nations for "smoking mixture") is a common name in Canada and the United States.[2][3][4] Growing up to 30 centimetres (12 inches) in height, the leaves are evergreen. The flowers are white to pink and the fruit is a red berry.

One of several related species referred to as bearberry,[2][5] its specific epithet uva-ursi means "grape of the bear" in Latin (ūva ursī), similar to the meaning of the generic epithet Arctostaphylos (Greek for "bear grapes").


Arctostaphylos uva-ursi is a small procumbent woody groundcover shrub growing to 5–30 centimetres (2–12 inches) high.[6] Wild stands of the species can be dense, with heights rarely taller than 15 cm (6 in). Erect branching twigs emerge from long flexible prostrate stems, which are produced by single roots. The trailing stems will layer, sending out small roots periodically. The finely textured velvety branches are initially white to pale green, becoming smooth and red-brown with maturity.[2] The small solitary three-scaled buds are dark brown.

The leaves are shiny, small, and feel thick and stiff,[6] measuring about 4 cm (1+12 in) long and 1 cm (12 in) wide.[7] Their tops are darker green than their undersides.[8] They have rounded tips tapering back to the base, held vertically by a twisted leaf stalk in an alternate arrangement on the stem.[8] The leaves remain green for 1–3 years before falling in autumn, when their colour changes to a reddish-green or purple, pale on the underside.[6]

Terminal clusters of small urn-shaped flowers bloom from May to June. The flowers are white to pink,[8] and bear round, fleshy or mealy, bright red to pink fruits called drupes.[2] The smooth, glossy skinned fruits range from 14 to 12 inch (6 to 13 mm) in diameter. The red fruits[2] persist on the plant into early winter. The fruits are bittersweet when raw, but sweeter when boiled and dried. Each drupe contains 1 to 5 hard seeds, which need to be scarified and stratified prior to germination to reduce the seed coat and break embryo dormancy. There is an average of 40,900 cleaned seeds per pound.[4]


The plant contains diverse phytochemicals, including ursolic acid, tannic acid, gallic acid, some essential oils and resin, hydroquinones (mainly arbutin, up to 17%), tannins (up to 15%), phenolic glycosides and flavonoids.[9]


There are some 14 subspecies,[10] including:

  • Arctostaphylos uva-ursi subsp. uva-ursi. Common bearberry; circumpolar arctic and subarctic, and in mountains further south.
  • Arctostaphylos uva-ursi subsp. adenotricha. Central high Sierra Nevada.
  • Arctostaphylos uva-ursi subsp. coactilis. North coastal California, central coast California, San Francisco Bay Area.
  • Arctostaphylos uva-ursi subsp. cratericola (J. D. Smith) P. V. Wells. Guatemala bearberry, endemic to Guatemala at very high altitudes (3,000–4,000 m or 9,800–13,100 ft).
  • Arctostaphylos uva-ursi subsp. longifoliosa. Various reports from Canada, U.S.A.[11] May be the same as adenotricha or coactilis.

For a list of reported North American subspecies and varietals, see USDA Plants Profile.[10]


The genus name of Arctostaphylos uva-ursi comes from the Greek words arctos (meaning bear) and staphyle (meaning "bunch of grapes") in reference to the fruits which form grape-like clusters.[2][3][6] In the wild, the fruits are commonly eaten by bears.[6] The specific epithet, uva-ursi, comes from the Latin words uva (meaning grape) and ursus (bear), reflected by the bearberry nickname.[6][12]

The common name, kinnikinnick, is an Algonquin word meaning "smoking mixture".[3][6] Native Americans and early pioneers smoked the dried uva-ursi leaves and bark alone or mixed with other herbs, tobacco or dried dogwood bark in pipes.[6] Numerous common names exist, depending on region, such as mealberry, sandberry, mountain-box, fox-plum, hog-crawberry, and barren myrtle.[3]

Distribution and habitat[edit]

The distribution of Arctostaphylos uva-ursi is circumpolar, and it is widespread in northern latitudes,[2][10][4] but confined to high altitudes further south:


It is a fire-tolerant species and may be a seedbanking species.[2]

Arctostaphylos uva-ursi is an alternate host for spruce broom rust.[13]

Bears and other animals eat the berries.[14]


The plant is rare or endangered in several states of the Midwestern United States.[4]


One review indicated that ingestion of large doses can cause allergic reactions, with nausea and seizures, as a potential emergency condition.[15] Preliminary studies indicate that arbutin may be toxic when ingested in high doses.[16] Uva ursi may cause adverse effects in people with liver or kidney disease, or pregnant and breastfeeding women.[15]

The leaves contain arbutin,[15][16] which metabolizes to form hydroquinone, a potential liver toxin.[16][17]


Bearberry fruits and leaves are used by members of the Blackfeet Nation as food.[18] While edible raw the fruits are fairly bland that way,[6][7][19] but can be used to make jelly.[13] The berries were used as seasoning and cooked with meat.[20] The young leaves can be made into tea.[7] Teas and extracts of the leaves have been used in traditional medicine of First Nations people over centuries as urinary tract antiseptics, diuretics, and laxatives.[15] In herbalism, leaf tea is used to treat urinary tract inflammation.[15] Though thought to be an astringent[21] or cure for sexually transmitted diseases,[22][citation needed] as of 2017, there was no high-quality evidence from clinical research that such treatments are effective or safe.[15]

Dried bearberry leaves are the main component in many traditional North American Native smoking mixes,[3][23] known collectively as "kinnikinnick" (Algonquin for "smoking mixture") used especially among western First Nations, often including other herbs and sometimes tobacco.[3][6][15]

Native Americans also used the plant to make yellow dye.[13]

There are several cultivars that are propagated for use as ornamental plants.[3] It is an attractive year-round evergreen groundcover for gardens, and is useful for controlling erosion on hillsides and slopes due to its deep roots.[6] It is tolerant of sun and dry soils, and is thus common groundcover in urban areas, in naturalized areas, and in native plant or rock gardens.[2][6]


  1. ^ "Arctostaphylos uva-ursi". NatureServe Explorer. NatureServe. Retrieved 2018-07-18.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "Arctostaphylos uva-ursi (L.) Spreng; E-Flora: Electronic atlas of the flora of British Columbia; In: Klinkenberg, Brian. (Editor)". E-Flora BC, Department of Geography, University of British Columbia Herbarium. 2018. Retrieved 2019-08-27.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h "Common bearberry". Alberta Plant Watch, Government of Alberta. 2019. Retrieved 2019-08-27.
  4. ^ a b c d "Plant fact sheet: Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi)" (PDF). USDA NRCS Northeast Plant Materials Program. 31 January 2002.
  5. ^ Casebeer, M. (2004). Discover California Shrubs. Sonora, California: Hooker Press. ISBN 0-9665463-1-8.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l "Arctostaphylos uva-ursi; 'Massachusetts'". Missouri Botanical Garden. 2019. Retrieved 27 August 2019.
  7. ^ a b c The Complete Guide to Edible Wild Plants. United States Department of the Army. New York: Skyhorse Publishing. 2009. p. 28. ISBN 978-1-60239-692-0. OCLC 277203364.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: others (link)
  8. ^ a b c Clapham, Arthur; Tutin, Thomas; Warburg, Frederic (1989). Excursion Flora of the British Isles (Third ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 231. ISBN 0521232902.
  9. ^ Pegg, Ronald B.; Rybarczyk, Anna and Amarowicz, Ryszard (2008). "Chromatographic separation of tannin fractions from a bearberry leaf (Arctostaphylos Uva-ursi L. Sprengel) extract by Se-HPLC". Polish Journal of Food and Nutrition Sciences. 58 (4): 485–490. doi:10.17221/234/2008-cjfs. S2CID 37247418.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  10. ^ a b c "Plants profile for Arctostaphylos uva-ursi (kinnikinnick)". USDA Plants. 2019. Retrieved 2019-08-27.
  11. ^ Elven, Reidar (ed.). Pan-arctic Flora.
  12. ^ Wells, Philip V. (2000). The Manzanitas of California. Lawrence, KS: University of Kansas. p. 13. ISBN 978-0-933994-22-5. The name Arctostaphylos is from Greek: arctos = bear, staphylos = bunch of grapes or berries; hence bearberry, pertaining redundantly to A. uva-ursi (Latin: uva = berry, ursi = of the bear).
  13. ^ a b c Patterson, Patricia A. (1985). Field Guide to the Forest Plants of Northern Idaho (PDF). United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service. pp. 37–47.
  14. ^ Reiner, Ralph E. (1969). Introducing the Flowering Beauty of Glacier National Park and the Majestic High Rockies. Glacier Park, Inc. p. 114.
  15. ^ a b c d e f g "Uva ursi". 19 July 2017. Retrieved 27 August 2019.
  16. ^ a b c "Arbutin, CID 440936". PubChem, National Library of Medicine, US National Institutes of Health. 16 November 2019. Retrieved 19 November 2019.
  17. ^ De Arriba, S. G; Naser, B; Nolte, K. U (2013). "Risk assessment of free hydroquinone derived from Arctostaphylos Uva-ursi folium herbal preparations". International Journal of Toxicology. 32 (6): 442–53. doi:10.1177/1091581813507721. PMID 24296864. S2CID 24225098.
  18. ^ Hellson, John C. (1974). Ethnobotany of the Blackfoot Indians. Ottawa: National Museums of Canada. p. 101.
  19. ^ Benoliel, Doug (2011). Northwest Foraging: The Classic Guide to Edible Plants of the Pacific Northwest (Rev. and updated ed.). Seattle, WA: Skipstone. p. 107. ISBN 978-1-59485-366-1. OCLC 668195076.
  20. ^ Sanderson, Helen; Renfrew, Jane M. (2005). Prance, Ghillean; Nesbitt, Mark (eds.). The Cultural History of Plants. Routledge. p. 99. ISBN 0415927463.
  21. ^ Niering, William A.; Olmstead, Nancy C. (1985) [1979]. The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Wildflowers, Eastern Region. Knopf. p. 497. ISBN 0-394-50432-1.
  22. ^ Whitney, Stephen (1985). Western Forests (The Audubon Society Nature Guides). New York: Knopf. p. 418. ISBN 0-394-73127-1.
  23. ^ Moerman, Daniel E. (15 August 1998). "Arctostaphylos uva-ursi". Native American ethnobotany. pp. 87–88. ISBN 0-88192-453-9.

External links[edit]