Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Kinnikinnick Uva-Ursi Bonsai

We felt in love with a "Vancouver Jade" plant few winters before... when we've found it to a Home Depot garden, scattering red through its green foliage covered by snow. It was a dense bush with interesting shape of the trunk, having around 20 cm tall and 30 cm wide. Turn it to bonsai next spring, after the flowering season has passed, was just another challenging project to us.

Uva Ursi Bonsai - The blue pot match the red berries and the pink flowers
Uva Ursi edible Bonsai - The blue pot match the red berries and the pink flowers.

We've cut most of the flower stalks after the blossoms faded, letting just some to turn to berry, and used the trimmings in teas(similar to many others edible bonsai featured by ScentedLeaf) . When potted it, we made sure that the soil mix is free-draining.  It passed  without problems the winter frost (it is definitely an outdoor bonsai being hardy to USDA Zone 4) and these days it endeared itself to my attention with its pinkish very fragrant blossoming.  It is recommended for complete beginners as well as advance bonsai artists, being almost impossible to kill ;-)

 Vancouver Jade uva-ursi description at VanDusen

Arctostaphylos Uva-Ursi or Kinnikinnick is a very popular woody wild-bush with a very dense evergreen leaves, widespread to high altitude in North America, Asia and  Europe.  Member of the Heath Family Ericaceae, it is also known as Arctostaphyle raisin-d'ours, Bearberry, Bear's grape  (I'm not so sure that bears really appreciate the  taste of berries, but the birdies really enjoy them) 


Vancouver Jade was obtained in 1974 by University  of British Columbia Botanical Garden  (was selected by Mr. E.H. Lohbrunner in Victoria, British Columbia).  
 wall covered by Vancouver-Jade uva-ursi at VanDusen
Wall covered with Uva-Ursi at VanDusen Botanical Garden

It is a very popular cultivar in British Columbia, with a vigorous growing habit which is spreading more quickly than the typical forms of bear-berries existing in the wild. You may find them as ground-cover in rocky garden-landscapes, covering cement walls or boulders, even in vertical gardens; and wherever you'll notice them, in any season, along Vancouver's walkways,  Parks and Botanical Gardens,  you'll be impressed by their  lush foliage and the brilliant colors and fragrance of the flowers and berries. 

Uva- Ursi trunk with patched bark
Uva- Ursi trunk with patched bark

It has woody stems with patched bark, which root easily along the ground, helping it to widespread to rockery. Although the foliage looks very similar to cotoneaster's foliage, and is clambering with same rapidity over rocks and berms, do not confuse them.  In spring the branches are covered by pink bell-shaped flowers which turn later in showy red berries, edible, but with a  sandy-mealy taste and not so pleasant flavor (sometimes it is called also mealberry).  Like almost any other berry, may be eaten fresh, dried or cooked -  I tried them in all stages ;-), but in a small quantity to avoid stomach problems.

The dark green leaves which turning to redish in winter, are considered an ancient remedy to treat urinary problems. The kinnikinnick name was given because their glossy leaves mixed with tobacco and other aromatic herbs were used in rituals by First Nations. Dried leaves, tincture, essential oil or powder preparations are commercially available, being used nowadays in aromatherapy and herbal medicine.

 kinnikinnick, uva-ursi twig in bloom
 Kinnikinnick,  uva-ursi twig in bloom

The "Magic and Medicine of Plants" book published by Reader's Digest in 1986 mentions: "In Traditional Herbal Medicine, however, it is not the berries but the leaves that have held the place of honor. (The berries, while nourishing, are mealy and bland.) Picked in the fall, the leaves were heat-dried for medicinal teas, which folk healers have used for centuries as a tonic and Diuretic in many parts of the world. The Chayenne Indians drank the tea for back sprains, and others used it to treat venereal diseases. Indians and colonists also mixed the dried leaves with tobacco. (the Algonquian name  kinnikinnick means "mixture.""

 kinnikinnick, uva-ursi, Vancouver Jade blooming bonsai in blue bonsai pot

Don't you think that our Kinnikinnick Uva-Ursi Bonsai looks lovely with its dainty pinkish clusters of flowers?


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