Category Archives: Berry Identification

Berries in Alaska

This article in the ADN is about the antioxidant content of berries, good picking locations in Alaska and some of the things you can do with them once you find them. One recipe i personally would like to try is the Nagoonberry Syrup! Burke, Jill. 2012. Alaska wild berries: Tips on how to find and prepare them. Accessed online: Berries  Accessed on 12 Oct 2016.

Watermelon Berries

This is an informative paper byLeslie Shallcross and Marci Johnson explaining the uses of one of my favorite berries, the Watermelon Berry. Most people I have met don’t like the sweet seedy berry purely because of the skin texture and high seed content. However, I was interested in the uses of this berry in a homestyle sense instead as just a grab and go hiking snack as I usually use them for. This article walks you through storage and uses of a berry that is most often ignored.
   Shallcross, L. and Johnson, M. 2012. Watermelon Berries. Food, Nutrition, Health. Publication FNH-00123. Online: Watermelon berries Accessed: 4 Oct 2016.
This is a video by a Youtuber named Alaskan Urban Hippie. In it she explains how she acquired a Watermelon Berry plant and how to properly identify it. There are some species that look very similar while young that are not edible but poisonous such as False Hellebore. Alaskan Urban Hippie. 2016. Identifying Watermelon Berries (wild and edible).  Watermelon berry ID Accessed: 4 Oct 2016. AA Seward

Highbush cranberry recipes

High bush Cranberries  This article is by author, Corrine Conlon, and in it she presents some interesting information about the high bush cranberry and some of the things she does with it, as well as some of the combinations friends of hers have concocted. She also includes a description of the plant and some of the pros and cons of picking them. Conlon, C. 2016. Gathering Alaska: Juice and jelly from highbush cranberries. Available online Accessed on: 28 Sep, 2016.

Is it a blueberry or huckleberry?

 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 ( 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 

Northern Bushcraft in Canada

Check out this site that has a summary of all the wild berries found in the northern provinces of Canada plus lots more. Northern Bushcraft


Thought it was interesting how this article broke down some of the types of Alaskan strawberries and how they grow here. Rader, H. 2015. Untangling the confusion of growing strawberries in Fairbanks. Available online: Accessed on 14 Sep 2016.


Sensitivity to day length/night length
I got a question about which plants are day-sensitive and if there was a list. Wouldn’t that be a nice list to have? But boy would that be a nice list to have? It would be a long and complicated list that would need to be updated as new cultivars were developed. It doesn’t help that the terminology is not intuitive or indicative of the actual day/night length needs of the plants. It makes sense if you live in the lower 48. But in Fairbanks, Alaska, there is nothing about “June bearer” that indicates a need for short days. I wrote this article awhile back to help people better understand the importance of day length on strawberries.
Rader, H. 2015. Untangling the confusion of growing strawberries in Fairbanks. Available online: Accessed 14 Sept, 2016.

The Baneberry

The Red Baneberry (Actaea rubra)

My property contains a diverse collection of wild berries that I am starting to become familiar with so that in the future landscaping of my yard I can incorporate these wild stands to the best of my ability. There are high and low bush cranberries, raspberries, currants, red baneberries and at least one more berry that I think is possibly dwarf dogwood berries. The berries I am most concerned about are the red baneberries and that is because I know they are toxic and I know my son is extremely curious about everything (he already ate a baneberry on his second birthday which I spent about 30 minutes over-reacting on the phone with poison control).

The Actaea rubra commonly called red or white baneberry grows on a bushy plant with large divided leaves that have jagged edges and it grows around 1-2 tall and wide. Small round clusters of white flowers grow near leaf axils and at the ends of stems. The stamens of the flower give it a fluffy almost feathery appearance and they are quite pretty. The berries grow at the ends of tall thick stems in spherical bundles of beautiful red or white berries. They are very pretty and could be used ornamentally if I was not concerned with future ingestion.

The baneberry can be propagated by root or sown by seed, which may take 2 years to germinate and can begin to flower in the third year. Some lab studies have shown that only about 9% of seeds will germinate and “survival rates are 50% in sun while 64.3% in the shade” (Crane M.F. 1990). These berries are deciduous perennials and their broad width provides good ground coverage for small ground foraging birds and mammals. Red baneberries are consumed by many songbirds and small mammals but are toxic to people.

The red baneberry contains a poisonous essential oil in all of the plants parts but with higher concentration in the berries and roots. If ingested in large quantities they could have adverse effects to the nervous system. Some symptoms include; irritation of the mouth and throat, nausea, stomach cramping, headache, dizziness, diarrhea, increased heart rate, etc. (Crane M.F. 1990). Some European species have been known to be fatal to small children but there have been no known reports of baneberries being fatal to humans or livestock in the United States (NPIN). Luckily my son only ate one and had no symptoms.

My yard goals are still not clear to me yet as we are just building our house and planning for the future but I would really like to keep most the berries that grow naturally here. Unfortunately as beautiful as the baneberry bushes are I do think I will be trying to eliminate them from the yard to keep small curious children safe. I worry that in my attempts to get rid of the baneberries I will damage the other berries and so I am curious to learn about safe transplanting and elimination processes.  LH Fairbanks

Baneberry growing in a garden. White blooms in June. Red balls of fruit in late summer. Plants in the woods are taller, more open, but still have the characteristic dissected foliage. Berries are borne at the top of the bushy stems that can be 18 inches to 3 feet tall depending on the amount of shade.

The bunchberry, Cornus canadensis, is a ground cover that creeps along the forest floor. The leaves are quite distinct from the baneberry being in a rosette at the top of a very short stem– maybe 4-6 inches tall. They, too have red berries. They are edible but not palatable. They are located in bunches close to the ground.

cornus-canadensis-copyCrane, M. F.  1990.  Actaea rubra.  In: Fire Effects Information System. Online. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: Accessed September 11, 2016.

“NPIN: Native Plant Database.” Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. N.p., n.d. Web. Available: Accessed on September 11, 2016.

Naming of the Juneberry. Or is it Saskatoon?

What’s in a name? Saskatoon vs. Juneberry

This article from Time magazine examines the significance placed on what the Saskatoon berry is called when it comes to introducing it to the US market. Canadians cry foul at the efforts to re-brand Saskatoons as Juneberries especially considering that the cultivars generating the excitement in the US were developed in Canada. With billions of dollars potentially at stake, the controversy will, however, likely continue. I agree with the Michigan grower quoted in the article. Saskatoon is a much sexier name than Juneberry and gets my vote.  What’s in a Name?

Origin of Haskaps

This article is a succinct history of the haskap from Japan, Russia and Canada with dates.  Seems as though Alaska had some a little earlier than what is published here.  Haskap

Haskap or honeyberry or blue honeysuckle?

This circumpolar plant has one scientific name, Lonicera caerulea, but as common names go, there are several things to call this hardy shrub that bears tasty blue fruit. According to University of Saskatchewan, the breakdown of common names is as follows:

Haskap – for L. caerulea of Japanese descent. There are several iterations of this name, including Hascap and Haskapa. One account attributes the name Haskap as being a modification of hashikahpu, the Japanese word for the fruits.

Blue honeysuckle – translation of the Russian name for L. caerulea. Russian varieties tend to flower earlier than Japanese varieties.

Honeyberry – a name coined by Jim Gilbert of One Green Earth nursery in Oregon.

This website ( has the most complete origin information that I have seen so far, as well as this write-up from Dr. Bob Bors at University of Saskatchewan.

Arctic Berry Harvesting- Churchill, Canada

This site lists the common berries found in and around Churchill,Canada and great information about the berries, photos,  and personal harvesting reports, as well as tidbits about wildlife and birds in the area. Churchill, Canada Berries. It includes kinnikinnick, wild blueberries, bunchberries, cloudberries, bog cranberries, crowberries, gooseberries, raspberries, lingonberries and highbush cranberries.

Wildflower and Berry I.D.

This is my favorite go to web page for berry identification: Wildflower and Berry I.D.