Montana Outdoors

May 1, 2009


Filed under: Montana, Nature, Outdoors, Photography, Photos, Pictures — Tags: , , — montucky @ 8:50 am


(Kinnikinnik, Bearberry, Arctostaphylos uva-ursi, a shrub in the Heath family)

The name “Kinnikinnik”, I believe, comes from one of the Indian languages but I don’t know which one. It’s a low, trailing evergreen shrub in the Heath family with dark green leaves and it’s quite common in the mountains of western Montana. The flowers are tiny (the clump in the photo could be easily covered by a dime) and will give way later in the summer to small bright red berries that were used by Indians as a poor substitute for tobacco or ground to be mixed with dried buffalo meat to make pemmican, a nourishing and long lasting food source. (I find them rather tasteless myself although they are a common food for grouse.) The Latin term “uva-ursi” translates literally to “bears grape”.


  1. That is mighty small! But very interesting. i wish I knew all the old time uses for things in nature for medicine and food!


    Comment by Cedar — May 1, 2009 @ 9:50 am

    • That would be a study in itself. I don’t know who would be an authority on the subject though. We have an old set of “Foxfire” books that have a lot of good information in them, but they cover only an area in Rabun County, Georgia.


      Comment by montucky — May 1, 2009 @ 10:39 am

  2. Maybe “Kinnikinnik” means “Blooming Choir”. To me they look as though they’re singing.

    Perhaps that’s what they mean by the “harmony of nature”.


    Comment by Pinhole — May 1, 2009 @ 11:32 am

    • I find it interesting that while the flowers look like a choir, the berries don’t grow in a clump, but seem to spread out.


      Comment by montucky — May 1, 2009 @ 7:15 pm

  3. I like it. How do you shoot macro? Do you have a macro lens, or use extension tubes, or close-up filters?


    Comment by Lillie — May 1, 2009 @ 12:00 pm

    • I do have a macro lens. I use a Micro-Nikkor 60mm f/2.8D. I’m finding that it’s a challenge because it has a real tight focus and really needs a tripod which is hard to do on tiny low-growing flowers. I remodeled a very old table top type tripod into a monopod that has about 4 inches below the camera, and I can usually push that into the ground too if need be.


      Comment by montucky — May 1, 2009 @ 7:27 pm

  4. Lovely little flowers! I’ve seen them growing and often wondered what they were.

    Re: learning about plants. The internet has a wealth of information on plants. There are links on where you can learn about herbs, supplements.

    On uva-ursi itself, I pulled up a very informative link from


    Comment by Iona — May 1, 2009 @ 12:06 pm

    • Thanks for the links, Iona! I just never get around to doing a good job of researching the possible uses, etc. of plants. It would be an interesting study to be sure!


      Comment by montucky — May 1, 2009 @ 7:31 pm

  5. I like the photo but you have confirmed for me that grouse have no taste.


    Comment by burstmode — May 1, 2009 @ 2:44 pm

    • While it’s probably true that grouse have no taste, grouse do taste good! One of my favorite wild foods! I’ve read that they are a favorite of bears, and I’m sure that bears do eat them, but the berries are so small that I think a typical bear has much better sources for a good meal.


      Comment by montucky — May 1, 2009 @ 7:35 pm

  6. I’m now caught up on your blog and have studied every photo posted since I started following it… your wildflower photos are magnificent and I do like the stories you post along with them. (especially get a kick out of your obsessions because that sort of obsession is entirely comprehensible to me)


    Comment by Victoria — May 1, 2009 @ 3:03 pm

    • Well thank you, Victoria! I do love wildflowers, and in season, they become a major focus to me because they are such a big part of the wonder and beauty of the wild country. If it were possible, I would love to take everyone with me on my trips into western Montana’s wild roadless areas so they could see the beauty of them for themselves and have that magnificent feeling of fitting comfortably into the natural world far from cities. My photos if it are the best I can do.


      Comment by montucky — May 1, 2009 @ 7:42 pm

  7. cute name and i love the flower. i’ve never seen this flower until today… tx for sharing!!


    Comment by kcjewel — May 1, 2009 @ 4:13 pm

    • Kinnikinnik is a very attractive plant, but I don’t believe it grows in Missouri at all, although it may be cultivated as a ground cover. Most folks who live here never notice the tiny blossoms either though.


      Comment by montucky — May 1, 2009 @ 7:46 pm

  8. How I love saying: “kinnikinnik”. It’s a delightful word. Great photo.


    Comment by Maureen — May 1, 2009 @ 7:10 pm

    • I do too, Maureen. I’ve often thought that whatever Indian language produced that name would be a delightful language to learn to speak!


      Comment by montucky — May 1, 2009 @ 7:47 pm

  9. very interesting! amazing they are so small!


    Comment by silken — May 1, 2009 @ 7:28 pm

    • The tiny sizes of most of our wildflowers is interesting, isn’t it! It makes them a challenge to photograph, but I think the macro lens does us a great service in making their beauty more visible to us. My perception of the natural world has changed very much because of that.


      Comment by montucky — May 1, 2009 @ 7:50 pm

  10. It reminds me very much of Wintergreen which is also in the Heath family. Gorgeous photo!


    Comment by Tabbie — May 1, 2009 @ 9:41 pm

    • I’ve only seen photos of wintergreen leaves and berries and they appear to be very similar but I’ve never seen the plant myself.

      My memories of Kinnikinnik go back to when I was very young, hunting with my father (well over 50 years ago).


      Comment by montucky — May 1, 2009 @ 9:57 pm

      • Wintergreen berries are a bit pithy, but I suspect they taste better than Kinnikinnik berries. I wonder what a hybrid of the two plants would look like…might make a nice garden bedding plant. Hybrids always seem to have more vigor than pure species. That being said, I tend to favor the straight species.


        Comment by Tabbie — May 1, 2009 @ 10:04 pm

        • I can see how kinnikinnik could make a very nice bedding plant, but I prefer to see it in its wild state
          i think.


          Comment by montucky — May 1, 2009 @ 10:29 pm

  11. I’ve never had the pleasure of seeing these in person, but they’re wonderful. And such a great name.


    Comment by iheartfilm — May 3, 2009 @ 8:25 pm

    • That name always sparks interest. When I was a kid it got my attention right away!


      Comment by montucky — May 3, 2009 @ 8:42 pm

  12. A beautiful shot. interesting tidbit? before the creation of penicillin, bear-berry was used to fight infection, for us humans but it was not so great on the liver so we opted for aspirin when it came to be. :o) I wondered out loud on the trail the other day with hubby… do you think bears love this so much to fight infection? I’ve read that white pine tree bark has aspirin like compounds and grizzlies love it. (It’s a great way to figure out where bears go; black and griz) An example in nat geo? A griz with an inflamed tooth was munching this bark everywhere.. I dunno. My mind hooks on the oddest things – maybe there’s a connection maybe not? Truth; only the bears know.

    I’m thrilled you got in in bloom!


    Comment by aullori — May 6, 2009 @ 12:33 am

    • Thanks Lori! I always wonder about its link to bears. I’ve seen it growing in areas pretty heavily populated with bears but have never seen much activity (damage) with the plant caused by them. I know grouse eat lots of berries because I have frequently found them in their crops. I suspect bears have easier ways to get a meal. but. as you say, “only the bears know”.


      Comment by montucky — May 6, 2009 @ 7:48 am

  13. I believe your right about your assesment there; I’ve had bear sightings everywhere I’ve seen these but rarely seen them eaten either. On a sidenote the huckleberries grow up here alongside these berries which these bears seem to like a lot. Maybe that’s the link????


    Comment by aullori — May 12, 2009 @ 12:10 pm


    Hey I was researching and ran into this scientific study of the berry it answers a couple of our questions and provides more than I ever wanted to know! 😉 But it does discuss how, when and why bears eat it.


    Comment by aullori — May 12, 2009 @ 3:11 pm

    • Thanks for the link, it was interesting. I’m still not very convinced that beard will eat a lot of it, simply because it would take them so long to harvest it. I’m sure though that it’s a part of their diet in early spring.


      Comment by montucky — May 12, 2009 @ 5:50 pm

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