HELENA - You know them, you love them. Huckleberries!
The cornerstone of every gift shop from Eureka to Ekalaka is a Montana staple for good reasons. And those reasons sound best coming from an actual botanist.
“They grow in the cooler mountains of Montana, all of our mountainous areas, but they also grow where the soil is more acidic, they are associated with our forest openings and in the under-story of the forest where the soils tend to be more acidic from the pines and the spruces and the furs," Program Montana Natural Heritage Program Botanist Andrea Pipp told MTN. "They are also associated with volcanic ash, is also a component of their soil.
The sweet berries also have a unique relationship with fire. Which suits the shrub very well out here.
“So huckleberries evolved with fire and they need low to moderate severity types of fires and they easily re-sprout after a fire especially a low to moderate severity fire, easily re-sprout," said Pipp.
All that flush of nutrients that the fire releases helps not only them re-sprout and grow but they actually become more productive.
According to Pipp, the berries are also very difficult to grow in a more “tame” setting, adding an extra amount of Montana-flavored adventure to foraging the fruit.
Combine all that with the vast amount of space huckleberries have to grow here – and it’s not a surprise that it’s the unofficial berry of Montana.
But remember it’s not just us who love huckleberries. The sweet treat is also a staple of various birds and… bears. So don’t over-pick when you find a nice cache of berries and be bear aware.
Pay attention to your surroundings, make noise, go in groups if you can and bring bear spray.