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Arctic Bearberry

Arctostaphylos alpinus

Please keep in mind that it is illegal to uproot a plant without the landowner's consent and care should be taken at all times not to damage wild plants. Wild plants should never be picked for pleasure and some plants are protected by law.
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Plant Profile

Flowering Months:
Ericaceae (Heath)
Deciduous shrub
Life Cycle:
Maximum Size:
30 centimetres tall
Bogs, heathland, moorland, mountains, rocky places.

White, 5 petals
Small white, bell-shaped flowers. Flowers are stalked. 5 green sepals and 5 fused petals.. 10 stamens. Pollinated by bees.
The fruit is a globular black berry, up to 12mm in diameter. Fruits are green initially, later turning red and then finally black.
Small oval, pointed leaves with finely toothed margins.
Other Names:
Alpine Bearberry, Black Bearberry, Mountain Bearberry, Rock Bearberry.
Frequency (UK):

Similar Species

Other Information


Arctostaphylos alpinus, also known as alpine bearberry or rock bearberry, is a species of flowering plant that is native to North America. It is a member of the heath family and is known for its small, white or pink flowers and red berries. Arctostaphylos alpinus is a low-growing, evergreen shrub that can reach heights of up to 30 centimeters (12 inches) and has a dense, spreading growth habit. The leaves are oblong in shape and are a glossy, dark green color. The plant produces small, white or pink flowers that are followed by small, red berries. Arctostaphylos alpinus is found in a variety of habitats, including rocky slopes, cliffs, and talus fields. It is a popular garden plant and is known for its medicinal properties, with the plant being used in traditional medicine to treat a variety of ailments.


Arctic Bearberry: A Tiny Yet Resilient Shrub of the Tundra

Arctic bearberry (Arctostaphylos alpinus) is a small shrub that grows in the harsh environments of the Arctic tundra. Despite its tiny size, it has a big impact on the ecosystem and is a vital part of the tundra food chain.

The arctic bearberry is a low-growing shrub that can reach a height of only 10-20 cm. Its leaves are small and oval-shaped, and turn a red-bronze color in the fall. In summer, the shrub produces small, white or pink urn-shaped flowers, followed by red or black berries.

One of the most remarkable features of the arctic bearberry is its ability to survive in the extreme conditions of the tundra. It can withstand temperatures as low as -60°C and high winds. The shrub's shallow root system allows it to absorb moisture from the ground even when it is frozen solid.

In addition to its tough exterior, the arctic bearberry is an important part of the tundra food chain. Its berries are a favorite food of arctic hares, as well as a source of nutrition for many bird species, such as the ptarmigan. These animals play a crucial role in the ecosystem by spreading the plant's seeds and helping it to grow.

The arctic bearberry is also a valuable plant for indigenous communities in the Arctic. The leaves and twigs of the shrub were traditionally used for medicinal purposes, such as treating wounds and colds. The berries were also used as a food source and as a natural dye for clothing.

The arctic bearberry is also known for its attractive appearance. Its red-bronze leaves, white or pink flowers, and red or black berries make it a beautiful addition to any tundra landscape. In gardens, it can be grown in rock gardens or as a ground cover, and is a popular choice for xeriscaping due to its low water requirements.

However, despite its resilience and adaptability, the arctic bearberry is facing challenges from climate change and other human activities. As the Arctic warms, new invasive species are appearing, which can outcompete native plants such as the arctic bearberry. Additionally, human activity in the form of oil and gas exploration, mining, and tourism can also damage the delicate tundra ecosystem and negatively impact the arctic bearberry and other native species.

To protect this valuable plant and the tundra ecosystem as a whole, it is important to take steps to minimize human impact in the Arctic and to address the effects of climate change. This includes reducing greenhouse gas emissions, protecting wildlife habitats, and controlling the spread of invasive species.

The arctic bearberry is also an important species for scientific research. Its ability to survive in the harsh conditions of the tundra makes it a valuable subject for studies on plant adaptation and evolution. Scientists are studying the genetic and physiological adaptations that allow the arctic bearberry to survive in such extreme environments, and this research has important implications for our understanding of plant survival strategies and the impact of climate change on the natural world.

In addition, the arctic bearberry has been used as a bioindicator species to monitor the health of the tundra ecosystem. The health and abundance of the plant can provide valuable information about the impacts of human activities and climate change on the tundra.

Finally, the arctic bearberry is also a valuable resource for conservation and restoration efforts in the Arctic. As human activities increase in the region, it is important to protect and restore native species such as the arctic bearberry to maintain the delicate balance of the tundra ecosystem. This can help to ensure that future generations have the opportunity to enjoy the beauty and ecological importance of this unique plant.

In conclusion, the arctic bearberry is much more than just a small shrub in the Arctic tundra. It is a valuable species with a rich cultural and ecological significance, and its study and conservation are important for the health of the tundra ecosystem and the planet as a whole.

Distribution Map

Reproduced by kind permission of the BSBI.

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