This name is not universally accepted, with some authorities still using the name Arctostaphylos alpina (L.) Spreng. We are following the treatment in the Flora of China[
] and the Flora of N. America[
Arbutus alpina L.
Arctostaphylos alpina (L.) Spreng.
Arctous erythrocarpa Small
Arctous japonica Nakai
Mairrania alpina (L.) Desv.
Uva-ursi alpina (L.) Gray
Common Name: Alpine Bearberry
Growing on Eagle Crag, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire, USA in summer with ripening fruit
Photograph by: Chris M
Arctous alpina is a dwarf, deciduous shrub growing 3 - 20cm tall, exceptionally to 30cm[
]. The plant spreads slowly by prostrate, subterranean stems to form a small, loose clump[
The plant is harvested from the wild for local use as a food and a medicine. It is sometimes grown as an ornamental in gardens.
Northern regions of Europe, Asia and N. America, and at higher elevations further south in the temperate zone.
] and stony places on calcareous Alp. Tundra, gravelly beach ridges, lichen heaths, open, boggy, coniferous woods, dry, wind-swept and snow-free fellfields in arctic and alpine tundra; at elevations up to 2,500 metres[
Arctous alpina is extremely cold-tolerant, able to grow in the Arctic tundra. It does not grow so well in warmer regions of the temperate zone.
Requires a deep moist well-drained light or medium lime-free loam in sun or semi-shade[
]. Prefers a cool damp position[
Plants resent root disturbance and should be placed in their final positions as soon as possible[
Grows well in a rock garden[
Fruit - raw or cooked[
]. Very juicy but slightly bitter[
]. Another report says that they are juicy but insipid[
]. The flavour is much improved by cooking[
]. Not as nice as many other wild fruits, but nor are they unpleasant[
]. The black-purple fruit is about 6 - 9mm in diameter[
], it is not usually produced very freely[
An infusion of the pounded plant has been used as an external wash in the treatment of rheumatism and general illnesses[
A decoction of the bark is used in the treatment of internal blood diseases[
The leaves are narcotic and have been smoked to cause intoxication[
Seed - best sown in a greenhouse as soon as it is ripe. Arctostaphylos seeds, especially if not sown fresh, are generally stimulated into germinating by one of two methods. The most effective is fire passing quickly over seeds that are lying dormant in the soil - this breaks down their surface coat allowing them to imbibe moisture when it next rains and then germinate. Alternatively, stomach acids act upon the seed coat when the fruit is eaten by various animals - the seed frequently passes through the gut unharmed and is deposited in a convenient pile of nutrients when the animal defecates - the seed will often still benefit from a period of winter cold before germinating in the spring. Both of these methods can be somewhat reproduced by the gardener - the seed can be placed under some straw which is then set alight - both seeds and ashes should be sown. Alternatively, pouring a small amount of nearly boiling water on the seeds (being careful not to cook them!) and then soaking them for 12 - 24 hours in warm water will have somewhat the same effect as stomach acids. Follow this treatment with a cold stratification at 2 - 5°c for 2 months[
]. The seed will then usually germinate in 2 - 3 months at 15°c[
]. As soon as they are large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots, being very careful no to damage the roots, and grow them on in light shade in a greenhouse or cold frame for at least their first winter, Plant out in late spring or early summer.
Cuttings of side shoots, 5 - 8cm with a heel, late summer to early winter in a frame. Takes one year[
Division in early spring. Take care because the plant resents root disturbance[
]. Pot the divisions up and keep them in a lightly shaded position in a cold frame or greenhouse until they are growing away actively.
Layering in spring[