Kinnikinnick is a versatile, low-growing shrub that functions extraordinarily as a groundcover in exposed, sunny, dry areas. In spring, this trailing evergreen shoots off cheery new growth with a lemony-green hue, followed by small white to pink, urn-shaped flowers. By late summer the foliage shifts to a reddish purple and the flowers mature into small red or orange berries that persist into winter. Kinnikinnick is used extensively by insects and wildlife and has been recognized for its medicinal properties by native peoples for thousands of years. It contains the glycoside arbutin, which has antimicrobial properties and acts as a mild diuretic.
- Plant type/canopy layer: evergreen perennial shrub
- Size at maturity: 5-8" tall, 2-5' wide
- Light requirements: full sun
- Moisture requirements: dry to moist soil
- Growth rate/ease: fast growth rate, easy to grow
- Bloom time: February - June (April - June in the Portland Metro area)
- Wildlife support: adult butterflies/nectar source, bees and other insect pollinators, beneficial insects/pest eating insects, caterpillar host plant/larval food source, hummingbirds (Oregon Flora Project)
- Native habitat/range: Thrives in a wide range of habitats including ocean bluffs, sandy flats, rocky hillsides, mixed woods, and coniferous forests up to 2800 meters across Oregon as well as into CA, ID, NV, WA; north to AK, east to CO, Canada and northeastern US. Portland Plant List - yes.
- Special features & uses: evergreen, erosion control, groundcover, medicinal, supports hummingbirds
Gardening with Kinnikinnick: Kinnikinnick is ideal for sunny locations with soils that are nutrient-poor, acidic, rocky or sandy and have limited water input. It is extremely tolerant of the elements, including salt and wind and can be used to replace lawns in these tough areas. It will also cascade nicely over ornamental rocks and borders.
Photo Credit 1: "Arctostaphylos uva-ursi" by Jörg Hempel is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
Photo Credit 2: Tara Lemezis, Tiny Seed Photography
Photo Credit 3: Nikkie West, Sparrowhawk Native Plants