Also known as Bearberry, Kinnikinnick is an evergreen shrub found throughout the Pacific Northwest. It can be identified by its leathery, dark green leaves. The leaves are oval shaped with pointed ends and trailing branches. An evergreen plant, it retains its leaves all year long although they change to a dark red color in the winter. Its flowers resemble tiny white or pink bells, and its bright red berries are edible by both people and a variety of wildlife. The plant grows low to the ground, rarely exceeding a height of 6 inches (15 cm).
The plant was first recorded by the Lewis and Clark expedition, while the explorers were camped at Fort Mandan, North Dakota. Kinninnick would have been well known to the Native Americans encountered by the expedition, as its leaves were dried and smoked and the berries used to treat bladder and kidney ailments.
Kinnikinnick is an important species to the endangered seaside elfin hoary butterfly, providing both shelter and food to the insect throughout its entire life cycle.
Kinnikinnick is a wide-ranging plant that can be found in North America from Alaska and northern Canada south to New Mexico and as far east as Virginia. There are some related species in Eurasia, Central and South America. The plant is a favorite for landscaping in the Pacific Northwest, often used as a thick ground cover around homes and businesses, or for stabilizing hillsides and sandy soils. On the Oregon coast, it can be found on sea-facing dunes and in the adjacent forests.