One kind of blueberry or another are ripe for picking from late spring to mid summer throughout the meadows and forests of western and eastern Washington. The berries grow most profusely on sunny, south-facing slopes, but you'll also find some bushes in shady spots. While you're on the trail, eat them out-of-hand or toss them into your morning granola or evening freeze-dried meal.
Washington Blueberry Varieties
Cascades blueberries grow on about 90 percent of Washington's subalpine slopes and meadows above 2,000 feet in elevation according to Daniel Mathews, author of "Cascade-Olympic Natural History." These bright, blueberries are large, intensely flavored and well deserve their Latin name Vaccinium deliciosum."
Black huckleberries (Vaccinium membranaceum), with dark black to dark-red berries, grow mostly southwest of Mt. Adams in burned areas and clearings. Oval-leaved huckleberries (Vaccinium ovalifolium) grow from sea level to higher elevations and have small berries that aren't as tasty as the other two varieties.
All blueberry varieties are edible and look very much alike, with Cascade blueberries having a larger and more rounded leaf shape than either black huckleberries or oval-leaved huckleberries, whose leaves are somewhat oval shaped. Another Washington native shrub, salal (Gaultheria shallon) also has blue, edible berries, but the berries have a thicker skin and larger seeds. The plant itself has broad, rounded leaves and a more upright growth habit than more shrubby blueberries and huckleberries.
In Olympic National Park, you'll find a large cascades blueberry meadow at the Upper Sol Duc Bridge campsite on the High Divide Trail -- the meadow is filled with ripe blueberries in late July and August. In the North Cascades, look for berries on the Park Butte/Schriebers Meadow Trail in late summer, and in eastern Washington at Mount Spokane State Park, you'll find huckleberries on almost every trail.
Warnings About Picking Blueberries
Berry-stained hands and fingers may be a worry when picking blueberries, but the taste of the berries make up for that hazard. A more serious concern is surprising a bear that also can't resist the berries. Pick in an open meadow, so you can spot any bear that happens to stroll by, and stay alert to avoid any unpleasant encounters.
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Susan Lundman began writing about her passions of cooking, gardening, entertaining and recreation after working for a nonprofit agency, writing grants and researching child development issues. She has written professionally for six years since then. Lundman received her M.A. from Stanford University.