The Bitterroot Valley is loaded with Montana huckleberries
Hey, Where You Heading?
As summer arrives in the Bitterroot Valley, you’ll notice a lot of people heading into the hills with their container of choice.
They’re on their way to their secret patch of Montana huckleberries.
Since they are Montanan’s, they’ll say hi and give you a wave, but don’t count on them inviting you along.
Keeping the location of a wild huckleberry patch a secret may be a little selfish, but you’d do it too if you’ve ever had these delicious treats.
Now they just have to hope nobody beat them to their patch this year.
Huckleberries are Wild, Just Like Montana
Inhabitants of Montana’s Bitterroot Valley have always relied on wild huckleberries as a plentiful and nutritious food source, as well as for medicinal purposes.
Back when people moved around with the food supply, you would find groups following the ripening huckleberry throughout western Montana.
They ate, dried and stored the abundant fruit for the harsh winter months.
More recently people have tried to grow huckleberries domestically, with little success.
Nearly all huckleberries grow in the wild, and those who have had success growing them in captivity say they’re nothing like the wild version.
And speaking of wild, the delicious huckleberry is one of the most important food sources for bears throughout the Bitterroot and Sapphire Mountains.
Where to Find Montana Huckleberries
Huckleberries grow all over western Montana in a variety of habitats.
In the Bitterroot Valley huckleberries like low to mid-elevation forests and mountain slopes.
And much like the coveted morel mushrooms that grow in the area, huckleberries flourish in burn scars after forest fires.
These are often areas that are found along forest service roads, hiking trails and campgrounds, making huckleberry hunting accessible for most everyone.
Here’s a great video to help you identify huckleberry plants in their native habitat.
A Few Montana Huckleberry Facts
Of the 7 species of huckleberries that grow in Montana, the most common is Vaccinium membranaceum, also known as Vaccinium globulare.
When fully ripe these berries are usually about the size of a pea.
The plant grows well in the damp, acidic soil of conifer forests.
Berries begin to ripen in mid-summer and have usually peaked by late August.
The common huckleberry is classified as follows:
Kingdom – Plants – Plantae
Division – Flowering Plants – Anthophyta
Class – Dicots – Dicotyledoneae
Order – Heaths / Wintergreens / Monotropes – Ericales
Family – Heath Family – Ericaceae
Species – Common Huckleberry – Vaccinium membranaceum
That’s a Good Question
Montana huckleberries grow in low to mid elevation conifer forests in most of the western half of the state.
Huckleberries are usually ripe by late August or early September. Look for berries that are darker in color and ones that easily come off the plant when picked.
Depending on when they are picked, huckleberries can taste sweet or a little tart. Some people say they are more tart than blueberries, but are sweeter than cranberries.