Oh man, I realized over the summer that this is not Kinnikinnick. It’s something else. The flowers are not a match. The flowers on this plant grow above the leaves. Kinnikkinnick’s flowers grow below. The quest for truth will continue…
Here’s a shrub — in fact, one of the few living plants I encountered along the Seaside beach — that dares to be colorful when the world around it has gone grey. Moreover, it’s sporting a pretty big footprint. At least twelve feet high and wide, this Kinnikinnick is dripping in bright orange berries.
Leaves grow in an alternating pattern with leaf stalks emerging from stipules. Grouplings of smooth oval, pointed, and spoon-shaped leaves cover the plant from the ground up. They are about 3–6 cm long, slightly shiny, durable evergreen leaves. It looks pretty happy in its sand-blasted home, with relatively few spots, bites, or wind-shredded tips that might hint at unhappiness.
Weighty yet small clusters of orangish-reddish berries dangle closely under the protective leaves. Each is less than a centimeter across and bears some resemblence to apples and tomatoes. Kinnikinnick berries are supposedly not poisonous, and my source says natives smoked the leaves and used it to stretch tobacco, hinting that it might have psychoactive properties. It also says the fruit is meaty and has a big pit. Not terribly appetizing. I bet they mess with your stomach unless you happen to be a bear or bird.
This standalone beast is growing on the edge of a gravel parking lot situated at the land-side margin of the dunes. It’s also named Common Bearberry. I bet a bear would be very happy to find this thick stand of berries, especially considering how relentless winter has been so far.
Pojar, J., MacKinnon, A., & Alaback, P. B. (1994). Revised Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast: Washington, Oregon, British Columbia & Alaska. Redmond, WA: Lone Pine Pub. Page 67.