Here’s a pretty good overview on huckleberries from NPR . . .
Starting in late summer, national forests in Northwestern states like Oregon, Washington, Montana, and Idaho fill with eager berry hunters hoping to find a cache of dark maroon huckleberries. It’s common for demand to exceed supply, leading to conflicts between Native Americans who have certain reserved picking areas, commercial pickers, and families hoping to continue their summer traditions.
Related to both blueberries and cranberries, the fruit is so juicy that it has to be dried, processed, or eaten soon after picking – which makes huckleberry season feel especially fleeting, when it often only lasts from August through September. They were once a major food for local Native Americans like the Yakama, who helped huckleberry crops flourish through an annual burning at the picking grounds, and even sometimes moved to stay close to prime picking locations.
Throughout history, finding and picking huckleberries has been hard work, yet for people who love them, the effort is worth it.
Several North Forkers are helping out with this huckleberry study . . .
Huckleberry enthusiasm has been elevated to obsession in Northwest Montana, where purveyors of the seasonal fruit advertise products ranging from jams, pies, salads and milkshakes to candles, coffee, wine and beer — even huckleberry-flavored cartridges for electronic cigarettes.
Yet for the scientists who know that the berries play a key role in the ecosystems of Northern Rockies, a full understanding of the huckleberry plant remains elusive.
“That’s one of the allures of the huckleberry, you know — you can’t grow them in your backyard,” said Tabitha Graves, a U.S. Geological Survey research ecologist based in Glacier National Park. “I think up until this point, they haven’t really had a level of research that would be appropriate for their role in the ecosystem.”
Graves is conducting a multiyear monitoring project in the park, hoping to gain an understanding of where the most productive berry plants grow and what conditions drive the timing of the crop and allow the plants to thrive.
Here’s an interesting article on huckleberry research in Glacier Park . . .
Tabitha Graves can’t say this will be a bad year for huckleberries, even though four of the five sites she is monitoring in the West Glacier area show berry production is down 75 percent to 95 percent from last year. But the fifth is showing the same number of berries as 2014, when a bumper crop was produced after a wet, cool spring.
And Graves, a research ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, doesn’t yet know what the huckleberry crop at higher elevations – where bushes are just popping out from under snow – will be like this summer.
“It could still be a great year if the berries at the higher elevations grow,” Graves says.