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Poor soil can be a blessing! Poor soil is perfect for certain extraordinary plants, and Massachusetts Bearberry is one of them. This sharp-looking groundcover revels in dry, rocky, acid sites where other plants struggle. With a minimum of maintenance, it spreads its pretty, exfoliating branches along the ground, each slender twig thickly clothed in dashing, dark green foliage. With the advent of cold weather, the small, leathery leaves take on burgundy tones, holding on all winter. Spring brings a bevy of dainty white blossoms that carry a hint of pink. Fill in rugged spaces around your home with evergreen elegance!
Bearberry is an interesting groundcover found all over the Northern Hemisphere in cool northern and alpine regions. It gets its name from the fact that bears enjoy the fruits (plant it at your own risk). In the U.S., it is also known as Kinnikinnick, a Delaware Indian word that translates to “mixture”; Bearberry was once mixed with other plants and smoked by several Native American tribes. Massachusetts is a special selection of Bearberry raised by horticulturist Bob Ticknor of the University of Oregon. Although the plant was developed in the Northwest, the seeds for the project came from Massachusetts.
Yet another nickname for Bearberry is Manzanita, the name for a whole group of Accents that are mostly native to the West Coast. Manzanita means “little apple,” a reference to the tiny red fruits that appear in late summer. The fruits are edible, but they don’t taste nearly as good as apples. They’re pretty to look at anyway!
How to Grow
Massachusetts Bearberry is particular about its growing conditions, but if you have the right site, it’s easy to grow. This sturdy groundcover wants full sun or light shade and acidic, exceedingly well-drained soil. Moderately dry, sandy soils are ideal. Salt spray doesn’t bother it, making it useful for seaside plantings. A dweller of cool-summer areas, Bearberry languishes in the South—high heat and humidity are not its friend. Cold winters are no problem, as it’s hardy to -50ºF! Massachusetts Bearberry is quite happy in poor (low-nutrient) soil. Do not fertilize it.
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