I recently visited Washington state and had the opportunity to go to Mt. Baker and pick huckleberries! ….or were they blueberries? If I were to be placed in this field of wild berries out of context, I would have without hesitation called them blueberries. I might add that our local tour guide and friend referred to them as “huckleberries”. She was born and raised in Montana, which leads to even more interesting facts about huckleberries. I have also lived in Montana and while living there I learned that huckleberries are considered to be very, very special. Any tourist shop will have huckleberry jams, jellies and other treats. Montanans are so proud of this berry that the state has made it a misdemeanor to label a product huckleberry if it contains any other fruit (http://codes.lp.findlaw.com/mtcode/80/11/7). All of this huckleberry/blueberry confusion led to more questioning and searching the internet for the difference between these two common names. I think that we gathered and gorged on Vaccinium delisiosum (Cascade Blueberry or Western Huckleberry), but I am still not positive. Whatever they were they were delisioso!
Here are a few things that I have gleaned from a little searching:
The common name ‘huckleberry’ includes two different genera (with the exception of next bullet), Vaccinium and Gaylussacia, both in the Ericaceace family
According to the USDA Plants Database, there are 14 plants with the common name of ‘huckleberry’ to include not only Gaylussacia (8 species) and Vaccinium (4 species) but also Solanum (spp: melanocerasum and scabrum)
Fruits of Gaylussacia have 10 chambers resulting in 10 large seeds, whereas Vaccinium have 5 chambers and many numerous and smaller seeds
According to the USDA Plants Database, there are 8 species of Gaylussacia, all east of the Rocky Mountains.
Blueberries have been domesticated, while huckleberries have not. Check out the following blogs for more adventures in differentiating these berries: KD Fairbanks
Barney, Danny. L. 1999. Growing Western Huckleberries. Available online: Huckleberries
USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. 2016. Plants Database. Available online: Plants Database