It’s Blue Season! : Wild Berries in Alaska

Fairbanksians, Alaskans, and berry fanatics everywhere be advised : IT’S BERRY SEASON! 🙂 So, find your favorite spot, and start picking!

Kassie and I headed out to my favorite berry barrens outside of town today. With a cool, wet summer, we expected to find lots of green berries, but were excited to find lots of ripe blueberries! The first wave of blues have just come into season, and there’s a great crop of green berries in the chamber, ripening up behind them.

(1) The Alaskan blueberries are ripening up and are ripening up in waves....
(1) The Alaskan blueberries are ripening up and are ripening up in waves….
(2)... with a great looking batch of green berries promising a long season of picking! ...
(2)… with a great looking batch of green berries promising a long season of picking! …
(3).... It's important to be as selective as you can and try not to knock of the green ones...
(3)…. It’s important to be as selective as you can and try not to knock of the green ones…
(4)... So that you can get a nice handful of berries like this one :)> !
(4)… So that you can get a nice handful of berries like this one :)> !

I will admit I lacked a bit of judgement on the trip. I wanted to take Kassie down to my “top secret” spot. It’s my little gem of local knowledge that I found the last autumn while out harvesting. However, the hike to the bottom brings you down a very steep grade, through an alder thicket that resists your ever move, and across uneven terrain full of pot-holes. The whole bushwhack lasts for about .6 miles. When we arrived, the berries were plentiful, but green. That meant straight back uphill! The bugs on the way back lived up to the Alaskan standard of a thick, buzzing cloud. I could wipe 10 or 15 from a shoulder at a time. On the way back I tried to skirt the alder thicket which only added more distance to the grueling hike; the moss which carpets the hillside eats step up like you are wearing moon boots. Fortunately, she didn’t beat me up when we were back at the top – I wouldn’t have blamed her.

There were many other things to marvel and look at during the day. We found only one cloud berry, but many, many plants. For some reason they are not producing fruit this year. Also, the low-bush cranberries do not seem to be yielding many berries. I did find my first high-bush cranberries of the year. I didn’t know they could be more tart than when you eat them in the fall, but the ones I tried had the same effect in my mouth as chewing cotton. Dry, dry, dry! In the barrens, patches of red and white club mosses colored the ground. Fireweed grew in small stalks and patches.

During the day we saw a lot of cloud berry plants, but this is the ONLY berry. I guess the wet summer didn't serve these berries well, or perhaps something else about the conditions kept them from fruiting. However, this one is still a good indicator that they'll be ripe in the next week or so.
During the day we saw a lot of cloud berry plants, but this is the ONLY berry. I guess the wet summer didn’t serve these berries well, or perhaps something else about the conditions kept them from fruiting. However, this one is still a good indicator that they’ll be ripe in the next week or so.
Fireweed is iconic to Alaska, and in thick patches it forms purple, waist-high carpets. Here, a butterfly was hiding in its petals. If anyone knows an ID on this butterfly, I would love to hear it! :) It was not very big, not more than 1/2 of an inch. Update: It's a Western Tailed Blue Butterfly, Thanks Mom for the ID, found on http://www.turtlepuddle.org/alaskan/butterfly23.html
Fireweed is iconic to Alaska, and in thick patches it forms purple, waist-high carpets. Here, a butterfly was hiding in its petals. If anyone knows an ID on this butterfly, I would love to hear it! 🙂 It was not very big, not more than 1/2 of an inch.
Update: It’s a Western Tailed Blue Butterfly, Thanks Mom for the ID, found on http://www.turtlepuddle.org/alaskan/butterfly23.html
Throughout the barrens these club moss (unknown species) were blooming. The white heads on and red stalks were a colorful patchwork across the landscape. They are pictured in the foreground with a cloud berry plant.
Throughout the barrens these club moss (unknown species) were blooming. The white heads on and red stalks were a colorful patchwork across the landscape. They are pictured in the foreground with a cloud berry plant.
The stalks of these club moss were beautiful!
The stalks of these club moss were beautiful!

By the end of the day we could have been more efficient (grueling hike taking up most of the time), but we still managed to pick almost a half gallon of ripe, delicious berries. Pies, muffins, and pancakes to come!

Kass sweated it out in her rain jacket to stay away from the bugs. On my shoulder I could kill 10 or 15 mosquitoes at a time.
Kass sweated it out in her rain jacket to stay away from the bugs. On my shoulder I could kill 10 or 15 mosquitoes at a time.
All things said-and-done we came out with almost a half-gallon of blueberries. That's lots of pies, pancakes, and muffins :)
All things said-and-done we came out with almost a half-gallon of blueberries. That’s lots of pies, pancakes, and muffins 🙂

12 thoughts on “It’s Blue Season! : Wild Berries in Alaska”

  1. A throwback to growing up on the Iron Range…heading to the berry barrens with the Zakulas. Similarly secretive, and blueberries galore…in equal balance with the deer flies. And as you stated, pies muffins and pancakes await. Thanks for jogging a pleasant memory.

  2. Oh yeah, I think we “scored” many mosquitos at VNP, also, many of which ended up in the pancakes with the blueberries! Always thought of it as extra protein:) Kass, you are a trouper! I hope those berries are extra sweet to make the adventure a pleasurable memory:)

    1. Cool! I didn’t know that website had butterflies too! That looks like the one, I didn’t realize it had blue wings – but I saw a lot of other blue ones flying around that day that were the same size.

  3. Thank you Ian. Love that fireweed. I grew up on Sebago where the wild blueberries grow prolifically. They are so worth the trouble to find them; a challenging adventure! Yeah to Kassie!
    Peg Blood, choir buddy

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