My gardening projects these past few days have consisted solely of watering, watering, and watering some more. It’s bone dry here, and in fact, the province of Alberta is currently under a fire ban, issued this past Saturday. As I write this, the community of Nordegg, 335 kilometres (208 miles) northwest of Calgary, is threatened by a massive, uncontrolled forest fire. Over 150 firefighters are battling that blaze and 50 more are fighting a fire outside of the nearby hamlet of Lodgepole. Hopefully they will bring the fires under control within the next few hours.
The fire ban is in place just in time for the Victoria Day long weekend, considered “opening weekend” for the camping season. My hubby and I have stopped camping on long weekends – we just cannot face the crowds of people that leave the cities to whoop it up in packed campgrounds. We’ll head out camping during the shoulder seasons, or during the week, when sites are available and the level of zaniness drops slightly. Instead, over the next few months, we’ll be focussing on taking day trips to hike or fish or just have a picnic.
Indeed, the prospect of eating portable food by a river in a forested, mountainous area is partly the reason we headed out to Elbow Falls, near the tiny hamlet of Bragg Creek, a couple of Fridays ago. That, and we hadn’t been out to the Falls in over a decade and we live practically next door to them.
A bit of snow still lingered in the shadows, and the Elbow River was clear and cold. We watched an American dipper cavort in the water – this was our first time seeing one of these dark brown birds, and it was really entertaining to watch the way they move and feed. (While my blurry, blobby photos of the little gaffer were good enough to obtain a positive ID from the enthusiastic and extremely helpful birders on the Alberta Birds Facebook page, I’m afraid they’re not quite blog-worthy. You can read about American dippers and see a decent photo here).
Kinnikinnick (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi, common bearberry) was growing like mad everywhere you looked, stuffed into every rock crevice and creeping along the pathways. I’ve always been a huge fan of this pretty groundcover, with its leathery green leaves that redden beautifully in the fall, and the pale pink flowers followed by bright orange-red berries. Bearberry has an air of confidence (if plants can have such a thing): it appears as if it will withstand anything nature can throw at it and look supremely fabulous doing it. If I had a rock garden, this native would be one of the first plants I’d install.
While I knew that kinnikinnick berries were edible, I didn’t realize that the plant is such a useful – and complete – food source for many different types of wildlife. According to this article, kinnikinnick serves as a larval food for many species of insects, and butterflies and hummingbirds dine on the plant’s nectar. The berries are nutrition for bears (of course), deer and coyotes, as well as birds such as evening grosbeaks, sparrows, and grouse. Deer munch on the plant’s twigs in the dead of winter. And humans (another type of wildlife, especially on the long weekends 😉 ) have been eating kinnikinnick for centuries – consuming the raw berries or adding them to dried meat and breads, or drinking tea made from the leaves and berries. It is truly an amazing little shrub.
(Here’s a view of kinnikinnick berries – I took this photo in the Heart Creek area, near Canmore, Alberta, in August 2010)
What are your favourite food/medicinal wild plants?
- Prairie Mountain (hikingphoto.com)
- Survival Tip – Edible Plants Part I (nwtactical.wordpress.com)
- Nordegg, Lodgepole given evacuation notice due to wildfires (globalnews.ca)
Love Elbow Falls
It’s such a lovely place! We lucked out and had it pretty much to ourselves that evening, which was great. Do you get out there often?
Couple if times a year. Usually go a bit further west after a visit and picnic. Lots if nice places that are nowhere near as crowded.
Cobble flats usually. Forgot the name for a second lol
So many great places in that area. Love that we live so close!
I just like the name….kinnickkinnick! Uva-ursi! It’s so fun. Great article!
Thanks so much! I agree, the name is the best! 🙂
A very interesting plant that I must take a closer look at. Lovely post Sheryl!
Thanks a bunch, Cathy! 🙂 Kinnikinnick is often used in rock gardens here, but I’m not sure I could grow a plant in my own flowerbeds due to the soil requirements (they like poor, dry, slightly acidic soil). If I can get a photograph of some when they bloom, I’ll update the post – they have cute little pink flowers (which are apparently fragrant, although I’ve never noticed).
My soil is not acidic, so maybe that’s why I haven’t seen it around here…
I have never heard of kinnikinnick berries before. I like the name. The berries are so pretty they look too good to eat.
They are gorgeous, aren’t they? Very decorative.
It’s a really interesting and appealing plant, and I love the name. Sadly can’t be grown here.
They’re definitely best suited to rocky, dry soils – they love it in the mountains.
Oh, I just love multipurpose berry or edible plants. I am sure we have many in New Zealand that I don’t know about. But whenever I do find something similar I am eager to find the best way to eat it! The Falls are beautiful.
It’s wonderful to find edible plants that are also beautiful! Our climate and geography are so different from yours…it’s interesting to compare.
[…] Kinnikinnick and Elbow Falls. […]
What a beautifu spot and I love bearberries
It is a very scenic place to visit…and you can’t help but love the bearberries! 🙂
Thanks for letting me camp out in your blog for a little while today. I had a great time and tried to leave my campsite as good as when I arrived. I’ll be back!
Thanks tons – what a fabulous comment! 🙂
I’m so happy you enjoyed your stay! I’ll keep a site reserved for you for future campouts!