Elisabeth C. Miller Library logo Miller Library Home UW Botanic Gardens Home UW Botanic Gardens Home book graphic

3501 NE 41st Street, Seattle, WA 98195 | (206) 543 0415 | Open: | Library Schedule

Gardening Answers Knowledgebase

Plant Answer Line Question

Keywords: Fungal diseases of plants, Huckleberries, Gaultheria shallon

We have 5 acres that are covered in 50-year-old fir and cedar forest, with lots of salal and evergreen huckleberry. The huckleberries have what looks like mummy berries that I have seen in photographs of blueberries before. They have a dry grey peeling that feels like old garlic skin with a very hard brown inside. There doesn't appear to be any problem with the foliage. These bushes are naturally growing, and are all over through the property. Mulching and cultivation would be nearly impossible on this scale, and I'd really prefer not to spray if possible. Can you suggest a safe method of control that would be possible on this large scale? Or is this something that nature will take care of on its own? Or do we even need to worry about it since we don't harvest the berries? I can live with a few shriveled berries. I just don't want it to spread wildly or kill off half of our underbrush.


If mummy berry is what you are seeing (and it does sound like it), it is caused by a fungus which overwinters in the fallen berries, so anything you can do to collect them might help. The following, from Ohio State University Extension, describes the life cycle of this fungal problem.

The Organic Gardener's Handbook of Natural Insect and Disease Control by Barbara Ellis (Rodale, 1996) recommends removing the berries and in spring, cultivating around the bushes to bury any fallen mummies, or adding mulch to cover fungal spores.

Beyond the good hygiene of removing the fallen fruit, there may be a chance that wettable sulfur spray might help, as described in this information from McGill University. Excerpt:

"Clean cultivation can reduce the incidence of mummy berry disease. This practice destroys the fallen mummified fruit, which harbors the inoculum for the next season's infection. Wettable sulfur sprays have also been effective in reducing mummy berry infection. In New Jersey, researchers used three sprays roughly one week apart with the first spray timed for leaf emergence in the spring."

However, I found Ohio State University contradicting this information, indicating that organic fungicides such as sulfur and copper were ineffective against mummy berry.

Here is additional information from National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service. Excerpt:

This fungus overwinters in mummified berries that have fallen to the ground. Sod or moss directly under the plant will contribute to spore production. To control this fungus, remove infested fruit ("mummies") from the plant, rake and burn mummified berries, or cover the fallen berries with at least two inches of mulch. Cultivation during moist spring weather will destroy the spore-forming bodies. Strategies that lead to early pollination of newly open flowers may be useful in managing mummy berry disease in the field, since studies show that newly opened flowers are the most susceptible to infection and that fruit disease incidence is reduced if pollination occurs at least one day before infection.(Ngugi et al., 2002)

The fungus survives the winter on dead twigs and in organic matter in the soil. The disease is more severe when excessive nitrogen has been used, where air circulation is poor, or when frost has injured blossoms. Varieties possessing tight fruit clusters are particularly susceptible to this disease. Remove dead berries, debris, and mulch from infected plants during the winter and compost or destroy it. Replace with new mulch, and do not place mulch against the trunk of the plant.

I'm afraid there is not an easy solution for such a large expanse of huckleberries. Then again, if you are not concerned about harvesting the fruit, then you can probably just let it be. Since the fungus seems to be a problem primarily for plants in the blueberry family, I do not imagine it will harm other plants on your property.

Date 2017-04-14
Link to this record only (permalink)

Plant Answer Line Question

Keywords: Vaccinium parvifolium, Vaccinium ovatum, Huckleberries, Seeds

I live in the UK, and I have been given some of your Huckleberry seeds. Can you advise me on how to grow huckleberries from seed?


I am guessing that you mean that you have seed for one of the native Pacific Northwest huckleberries, such as the evergreen (Vaccinium ovatum), or red huckleberry (Vaccinium parvifolium). It would be helpful to know which species you are hoping to grow from seed.

The website of Plants for a Future has propagation information for propagating Vaccinium species in general:

Seed - sow late winter in a greenhouse in a lime-free potting mix and only just cover the seed. Stored seed might require a period of up to 3 months cold stratification. Another report says that it is best to sow the seed in a greenhouse as soon as it is ripe. Once they are about 5cm tall, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and grow them on in a lightly shaded position in the greenhouse for at least their first winter. Plant them out into their permanent positions in late spring or early summer, after the last expected frosts.

Here are additional links to information:
Evergreen Huckleberry, or Vaccinium ovatum
Red Huckleberry, or Vaccinium parvifolium

Apparently, growing our native huckleberries from seed is challenging, as the information cited here, from a propagation course at the University of Washington, indicates: "Evergreen huckleberry can be propagated through hardwood cuttings or by seed, however seedling establishment is rare in most Western huckleberries."

The United States Department of Agriculture has this to say:

Seeds of most Vaccinium spp. are not dormant and require no pretreatment for germination. Seedlings first emerge in approximately 1 month and continue to emerge for long periods of time in the absence of cold stratification. However, seedlings of most western huckleberries are rarely observed in the field. Seeds of evergreen huckleberry usually exhibit fairly good germination under laboratory conditions, but early growth is generally very slow.

Date 2017-04-22
Link to this record only (permalink)

Didn't find an answer to your question? Ask us directly!

Browse keywords

Search Again:

May 23 2018 14:32:42