Common Bearberry (Arctostaphylos Uva-ursi)

Plant: Table of Contents

The Fascinating World of Common Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi)

Plants have been a source of wonder and intrigue for humans for centuries. They not only contribute to the planet’s ecosystem, but also have numerous cultural, medicinal, and aesthetic values. Common bearberry, scientifically known as Arctostaphylos uva-ursi, is a prime example of a plant that encompasses all these aspects.

In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into the world of common bearberry and explore its characteristics, uses, and cultivation. Whether you are an enthusiast, a gardener, or someone interested in the natural world, this plant is sure to captivate your interest.

What is Common Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi)?

Common bearberry, also known as kinnikinnick, pinemat manzanita, or mealberry, is a low-growing evergreen shrub belonging to the Ericaceae family. This plant is native to a wide range of regions, including North America, Europe, and Asia. Its scientific name, Arctostaphylos uva-ursi, reflects its bear-attracting red berries and is derived from the Latin words ‘uva’ (grape) and ‘ursi’ (bear).

The plant typically thrives in mountainous and arctic environments, where it can be found in rocky, sandy, or gravely habitats. Common bearberry’s leaves are small, leathery, and glossy green, providing it with a year-round appeal. In the spring, small, bell-shaped, white to pink flowers emerge, later giving way to the distinctive red berries in the fall.

Common Bearberry

Arctostaphylos uva-ursi Benefits

Understanding the benefits of common bearberry involves exploring its various aspects, from its cultural and symbolic significance to its practical uses in landscaping and gardening. Here are some key benefits associated with Arctostaphylos uva-ursi:

  1. Medicinal Uses: Common bearberry has a long history of traditional medicinal use, particularly in Native American and indigenous European medicine. The leaves contain compounds with potential diuretic, astringent, and antimicrobial properties, making it a valuable herbal remedy.

  2. Wildlife Habitat: The plant serves as an important part of wildlife habitats, attracting pollinators with its flowers and providing sustenance for various animals through its berries.

  3. Cultural Significance: Common bearberry holds cultural significance for many indigenous communities, often being used in ceremonies, rituals, and folklore.

  4. Ground Cover: Its low-growing and evergreen nature make it an ideal ground cover plant, providing both aesthetic appeal and erosion control in landscaping.

  5. Drought Tolerance: Arctostaphylos uva-ursi exhibits resilience to dry conditions, making it a suitable choice for xeriscaping and water-conservation-oriented gardens.

Bearberry Plants

The Arctostaphylos genus includes a diverse array of species, each with unique characteristics and adaptations. These plants are known for their tolerance to poor soils, as well as their ability to thrive in challenging environmental conditions. Some popular bearberry plants within the Arctostaphylos genus include:

  • Arctostaphylos columbiana: Native to the Pacific Northwest, this species is known for its pinkish flowers and red berries.

  • Arctostaphylos patula: Commonly found in western North America, this species is valued for its drought tolerance and landscape appeal.

  • Arctostaphylos edmundsii: With a natural range in California, this species is admired for its compact growth habit and ornamental qualities.

Arctostaphylos uva-ursi Description

Understanding the physical characteristics of common bearberry is crucial for identifying and appreciating the plant. Here are some key descriptive features of Arctostaphylos uva-ursi:

  • Leaves: The small, leathery leaves of Arctostaphylos uva-ursi are evergreen, providing year-round visual interest. They are shiny, dark green, and oval-shaped, with a smooth texture.

  • Flowers: In the spring, common bearberry produces small, bell-shaped flowers that can range from white to pale pink in color. These delicate blooms add a touch of elegance to the plant.

  • Berries: The most distinct feature of Arctostaphylos uva-ursi is its bright red berries, which often persist into the winter. These berries are an important food source for various wildlife species.

  • Growth Habit: Common bearberry is a low-growing, spreading shrub, typically reaching a height of 6-12 inches and spreading to several feet in width.

Common Bearberry Plant Care

Successfully cultivating and maintaining common bearberry requires an understanding of its specific requirements and preferences. From the soil composition to pruning techniques, every aspect of care plays a crucial role in the plant’s health and vigor.


Cultivating common bearberry involves providing the ideal conditions for its growth and development. Here are some cultural considerations:

  • Hardiness Zones: Arctostaphylos uva-ursi is well-adapted to thrive in USDA hardiness zones 2 to 6, showcasing its tolerance to cold temperatures.

  • Native Habitat: The plant is commonly found in rocky, acidic, and well-drained soils, often in mountainous or arctic regions.

  • Propagation: Common bearberry can be propagated from seeds, although it is more commonly propagated through cuttings due to the challenges of germinating its seeds.


In addition to its ecological role, common bearberry has various practical uses in landscaping, traditional medicine, and wildlife enhancement. Some key uses include:

  • Landscaping: The plant’s low-growing and spreading nature makes it a popular choice for ground cover in gardens and naturalistic landscapes.

  • Traditional Medicine: Common bearberry leaves have been traditionally used as a medicinal remedy for urinary tract infections, kidney stones, and other related conditions.

  • Wildlife Food Source: The berries of Arctostaphylos uva-ursi provide essential nourishment for birds and other wildlife during the winter months.


Providing adequate water is essential for the health and survival of common bearberry. Here are some considerations for watering the plant:

  • Established Plants: Once established, common bearberry is moderately drought-tolerant and does not require frequent watering. However, during hot and dry periods, supplemental watering may be beneficial.

  • New Plantings: Newly planted common bearberry should be watered regularly to help them establish their root systems and adapt to their new environment.


Sufficient sunlight is crucial for the growth and flowering of common bearberry. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Full Sun: Arctostaphylos uva-ursi thrives in full sun to partial shade, with at least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight per day being ideal for optimal growth and berry production.

  • Shade Tolerance: While the plant prefers full sun, it can tolerate some shade, particularly in hotter climates or during the peak of summer.


Applying fertilizer judiciously can support the growth and vigor of common bearberry. Consider the following fertilization tips:

  • Minimal Fertilization: Common bearberry generally thrives in nutrient-poor, acidic soils, and excessive fertilization can lead to overly lush growth and decreased berry production.

  • Organic Amendments: If necessary, organic amendments such as well-aged compost or acidic mulch can be applied sparingly to the soil around the plants to provide supplemental nutrients.


Understanding the soil requirements of common bearberry is crucial for creating the right growing environment. Here are some essential soil considerations:

  • Acidic Soil: Common bearberry thrives in acidic soils with a pH range of 4.5 to 6.0. Amending the soil with organic matter and pine bark can help maintain the desired acidity.

  • Well-Drained Soil: Ensuring proper drainage is essential, as Arctostaphylos uva-ursi is sensitive to waterlogged conditions that can lead to root rot and other issues.


Pruning common bearberry is essential for maintaining its desired shape, controlling its spread, and rejuvenating older plants. Here’s what you need to know about pruning:

  • Timing: The best time to prune common bearberry is in the early spring before new growth begins. This allows for the removal of dead or overcrowded branches without compromising the plant’s bloom potential.

  • Selective Pruning: Focus on removing dead or damaged branches, as well as thinning out any excessively dense growth to promote air circulation and light penetration.


Propagating common bearberry allows for the expansion of its presence in gardens and landscapes. Here are some propagation methods to consider:

  • Softwood Cuttings: Taking softwood cuttings in the early summer and rooting them in a well-draining soil medium is a reliable method for propagating Arctostaphylos uva-ursi.

  • Division: Dividing mature, established plants is another effective way to propagate common bearberry, particularly when rejuvenating older specimens.

Container Popularity

The compact nature and ornamental appeal of common bearberry make it a popular choice for container gardening. Consider the following aspects of container cultivation:

  • Container Size: Select a spacious container that accommodates the plant’s spreading growth habit and provides ample room for root development.

  • Drainage: Ensuring adequate drainage in the container is crucial to prevent waterlogging and associated issues.

  • Soil Medium: Use a well-draining, acidic potting mix formulated for ericaceous plants to provide the ideal growing medium for Arctostaphylos uva-ursi.

Container Common Diseases

While common bearberry is relatively resistant to diseases, certain issues can arise, particularly in container-grown specimens. Here are some common diseases to watch for:

  • Root Rot: Prolonged periods of soil moisture can lead to root rot, causing the plant to wilt and decline. Proper drainage and watering practices can help prevent this issue.

  • Powdery Mildew: In humid or poorly ventilated conditions, common bearberry may be susceptible to powdery mildew, resulting in a white, powdery coating on the leaves.

Disease Diagnosis

Diagnosing plant diseases involves careful observation and understanding of the symptoms exhibited. When troubleshooting issues with common bearberry, consider the following diagnostic steps:

  • Visual Inspection: Carefully examine the plant for any signs of discoloration, wilting, spots, or abnormal growth.

  • Environmental Factors: Consider the environmental conditions, such as moisture levels, sunlight exposure, and air circulation, which can contribute to disease development.

  • Consultation: If unsure about a particular issue, seeking guidance from local horticultural resources or extension services can provide valuable insights.

Common Pests

Though relatively pest-resistant, common bearberry may encounter certain insect pests that can impact its health. Here are some common pests to be mindful of:

  • Spider Mites: These tiny pests can cause stippling and webbing on the leaves, often preferring dry and dusty conditions.

  • Leaf Miners: The larvae of leaf-mining insects can cause unsightly trails and blotches on the leaves, impacting the plant’s aesthetic appeal.

  • Caterpillars: Certain caterpillar species may feed on the leaves of common bearberry, leading to visible damage.

Botanist’s Tips

For those fascinated by the intricate biology and ecology of common bearberry, the following tips can provide deeper insights into the plant’s world:

  • Adaptations: Explore the unique adaptations of Arctostaphylos uva-ursi to challenging environments, such as its tolerance to nutrient-poor soils, cold temperatures, and drought.

  • Wildlife Interactions: Observing the plant’s interactions with local wildlife, including pollinators and berry-consuming animals, can offer a captivating perspective on its ecological role.

  • Taxonomy: Understanding the taxonomic relationships and evolutionary history of common bearberry can shed light on its position within the broader plant kingdom.

Fun Facts

Here are some intriguing and fun facts about common bearberry that showcase its diverse and captivating nature:

  1. The leaves of Arctostaphylos uva-ursi contain compounds known as arbutin and hydroquinone, which have been studied for their potential medicinal properties.

  2. Native American communities traditionally used common bearberry leaves in smoking mixtures, often combined with other herbs for ceremonial purposes.

  3. Arctostaphylos uva-ursi is also known by the name “kinnikinnick,” a term derived from Algonquian languages, signifying a smoking mixture.

  4. The berries of common bearberry are consumed by various bird species, serving as an important winter food source when other options are scarce.

  5. The plant’s ability to form dense, spreading mats makes it an excellent choice for stabilizing and beautifying slopes and rocky areas.

Links to External Resources

For further exploration of common bearberry and related topics, here are some valuable external resources:

In conclusion, common bearberry is a remarkable plant that transcends mere aesthetics, encompassing ecological, cultural, and medicinal significance. Its ability to thrive in challenging environments, provide sustenance for wildlife, and offer traditional healing properties makes it a plant of extraordinary value. Whether adorning gardens, supporting local biodiversity, or inspiring fascination in plant enthusiasts, Arctostaphylos uva-ursi stands as a testament to the multifaceted brilliance of the natural world.

As we continue to appreciate and understand the significance of plants like common bearberry, we forge a deeper connection to the intricate tapestry of life that surrounds us.

Plant Name: Common Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi)

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Peter Taylors

Expert botanist who loves plants. His expertise spans taxonomy, plant ecology, and ethnobotany. An advocate for plant conservation, he mentors and educates future botanists, leaving a lasting impact on the field.