Massachusetts BearberryArctostaphylos uva-ursi 'Massachusetts'
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Arctostaphylos uva-ursi 'Massachusetts'
Outdoor Growing zone
Full Sun, Partial Sun
The Massachusetts Bearberry is a low-growing evergreen shrub that spread to cover a wide area with its attractive glossy leaves on flexible stems. It stays about 6 inches tall, but covers areas 6 feet across or more. In spring it is covered in clusters of urn-shaped hanging flowers that are white and pink. By fall these are bright-red berries. The leaves are rich green, turning burgundy in fall and often red when new. Grow it as groundcover over rocky and dry areas, or in the foreground of beds. Use it in natural gardens and along the edges of woodland areas.
Grow the Massachusetts Bearberry in full sun or partial shade. It is completely hardy in zone 2, and grows all through the colder zones, and in warmer zones where the summers are cool. The soil should be well-drained and poor, infertile and sandy soils are a good environment for this tough plant. Avoid damp or wet locations. Acidic soil is preferred, but not essential. This plant is resistant to diseases, it has no pests, and deer normally leave it alone.
Low-growing groundcover plants are the way to go if you want to make your garden landscape look richer and fuller, without adding extra work. The best groundcovers are evergreen, so that they choke out weeds most effectively, but in colder parts of the country hardy evergreens are relatively rare. That makes the Massachusetts Bearberry all the more valuable, because as soon as the snow retreats, there are the green leaves and spring freshness. Amazingly hardy all the way into zone 2, this low-growing plant spreads outwards almost indefinitely, growing in sun or shade, and in poor soil. The small glossy leaves form a dense mat, and the attractive clusters of vase-shaped pink flowers, followed by red berries, keep it always interesting. It’s a special treat for northerners, because it won’t grow anywhere with hot, humid summers, so Southern gardeners miss out, although in the northwest, and where summers are cool, it grows well.
The Massachusetts Bearberry is a low-growing evergreen shrub that creeps across the ground with long flexible stems. These send out roots where they touch the ground, so it can spread indefinitely, and a single plant will cover an area greater than 3 feet across, and as much as 10 feet wide over time. It remains low, typically reaching only 6 inches tall, although it may grow a few inches taller. Older stems have flaking reddish-brown bark, and young shoots and leaves are red when grown in full sun. The stems are covered with small leaves, no more than an inch long, which are oval, glossy, and dark green. In late fall and through winter they turn burgundy-bronze, returning to green again in spring, as soon as the temperature rises. The leaves cling close to the stems, and the intertwined mat of stems and foliage makes a dense, weed-resistant mat.
In April and May clusters of small flowers form at the ends of branches. These flowers are urn-shaped and drooping, colored white to light pink. They have an enchanting ‘fairy lantern’ look, and they make a lovely spring effect scattered across the plant. The flowers mature into clusters of berries about ½ inch across, green in summer and maturing to bright red in fall. Like the flowers, they add a colorful touch to the rich green foliage. The berries are edible, but not particularly tasty or interesting when raw. Cooked they can be made into jam or substituted for cranberries. They are a valuable food for birds and small mammals in winter.
With its ability to grow in poor soil and over rocky areas, this groundcover plant is invaluable in northern gardens. Grow it on slopes and over rough ground, to enrich your landscape and add a whole new layer of interest and richness. It looks attractive every day of the year, so grow it both in more structured garden areas and in natural places. It is a native plant, so it is ideal for natural gardens and around woodlands. Space plants 2 to 3 feet apart for a solid cover in a few seasons over areas of any size. Plant it into crevices between rocks to soften their harshness and make an attractive carpet.
The Massachusetts Bearberry is amazingly hardy, growing happily in zone 2 and in all the colder zones, up to zone 6. In parts of the country with cool summers, even if their zone rating is higher, it will also grow well. This includes the north-western states, San Francisco, and into New Mexico at higher altitudes. It will not grow well in the southeast beyond zone 6.
This versatile shrub will grow in full sun or partial shade, so it can be planted in many different locations around the garden. It does best in well-drained soils, including infertile and sandy soils. It will not grow so well in heavy clays and damp places, and it prefers acidic soils, although this is not an absolute requirement.
No special care at all is needed for this plant. If branches should die over time, simply prune them out. Long shoots can have their tips removed to encourage branching, and to keep it very low growing. It is normally not troubled by pests, and this particular variety is resistant to leaf-spot diseases that can occur on some other forms. It is also generally resistant to deer, so it can be planted safely in natural areas.
The bearberry, Arctostaphylos uva-ursi, grows wild all around the north pole, across Europe, Asia and North America. It is found in Canada and all the northern states, as well as further south along the Rocky Mountains. It grows naturally in open, dry and rocky areas or around the margins of woodlands. Uva ursi is Latin for ‘grapes of bears’. This plant is also called kinninnick, which means ‘smoking mixture’ in Algonquin (a Canadian First Nations language related to Ojibwe). The leaves, alone or mixed with other herbs and tobacco, were smoked by both Native Americans and white trappers. It was also used medicinally, and to produce a yellow dye.
Like all wild plants, seedlings of this plant are variable, and the variety called ‘Massachusetts’ was developed by Dr Robert Ticknor, a professor of horticulture at Oregon State University. Since 1952, at the University’s North Willamette Research and Extension Center, outside Aurora, he has bred numerous new varieties of ornamental plants, and he selected this one for its smaller leaves and very low growth form; its prolific flowering and berry production; and its resistant to leaf diseases. He collected the seed it was grown from in a natural area of Massachusetts.
We always offer the best forms of plants, where they exist, and this form of the bearberry is outstanding, with lots of flowers and berries on a low plant whose leaves are always green and fresh. Cheaper plants will often be mixed seedlings, and they won’t give you the same reliable look. Our customers know we stock the best, so our supply of this very desirable plant will soon be sold out – order right away to avoid disappointment.