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A trailing evergreen shrub, sending out long, slender, leafy branches, but rising only a few inches above the ground; young shoots glabrous or furnished with a minute down. Leaves leathery, obovate, rounded or retuse at the apex, with a long, tapering base, 1⁄2 to 11⁄4 in. long, 1⁄4 to 1⁄2 in. wide; bright green on both sides; margins hairy when young, otherwise glabrous; stalk 1⁄4 in. or less long. Flowers produced from April onwards in small, drooping, terminal clusters; corolla pitcher-shaped, 1⁄6 in. long, white or pink; ovary glabrous. Fruit globular, 1⁄4 to 1⁄3 in. in diameter, red, smooth and shining.
Native of the cooler temperate regions of the northern hemisphere, both in the New and the Old Worlds, found in diverse soils and habitats. It is equally at home on limestone and siliceous rock and is a vigorous coloniser of screes, boulders, and freshly exposed soils. It is an inhabitant mainly of mountains and sub-arctic forest, but is also found in dry pine forest, as in N. Germany and the eastern coast of N. America. In California, the headquarters of the genus Arctostaphylos, it is said to be confined to the coast, its place in the mountains being taken by A. nevadensis.
The American plants differ in having the branchlets more persistently downy than in the Eurasiatic form, and are sometimes distinguished as var. coactilis Fern. & Macbr.
In gardens, the bearberry is useful for forming a low evergreen ground-cover, its spreading masses of green foliage and small pinkish flowers being always pleasing. It may also be planted on the top of upturned tree-roots, which it will eventually completely drape, or on the top of miniature declivities of the rock garden. It is easily propagated by cuttings.
† cv. ‘Rax’. – Completely prostrate, with leaves smaller than normal. The original plant was found growing on the Raxalpe in eastern Austria, and the clone was put into commerce by Messrs Zwijnenburg of Boskoop (Dendroflora No. 13/14, p. 67 (1977)).
† A. ‘Wood’s Red’. – Of American origin, this received an Award of Merit on Oct. 9, 1973, for its large and bright red fruits, as a cultivar of A. uva-ursi, though its taxonomic position is uncertain. It is quite prostrate.
A. × media – Although hybrids between A. uva-ursi and A. columbiana are often identified as A. × media Greene, some authorities consider that the type belongs to A. uva-ursi.
A. nevadensis – The relationship of this species is considered by some authorities to be with A. pungens and A. manzanita, even though these are of much taller growth. It has indeed been made a suspecies of the former – A. pungens subsp. nevadensis (Gray) J. B. Roof. Another character distinguishing A. nevadensis from A. uva-ursi, in addition to the foliage, is that its berries are brownish red.
A. hookeri – Synonym: A. uva-ursi subsp. hookeri (G. Don) J.B. Roof.
A. edmundsii – This was considered by James Roof to be a natural hybrid between A. uva-ursi and A. rosei (mentioned above under A. crustacea as var. rosei).
A. nummularia var. myrtifolia (Parry) Jeps