When I first wandered the forests of southwestern BC in winter, this little plant had me stumped. I perused the field guides looking for a tiny native evergreen shrub with finely serrated leaves, but to no avail.
Finally, after more research, the mystery was solved. This is the juvenile form of Vaccinium parvifolium, or red huckleberry.
For the first 3 or 4 years of its life, red huckleberry is evergreen with waxy, finely serrate leaves. After that, its leaves take on the form we are more familiar with — deciduous, entire and almost translucent.
Having evergreen leaves may allow the young plant to maximize on its ability to photosynthesize whenever there is enough light available. It also means the young plant doesn’t have to put energy into growing new leaves each season — meaning that it can put its energies into overall growth.
I’ve not been able to find another example of a shrub that uses this same fascinating strategy — which begs the question of how effective it might be. Any grad students looking for a thesis topic?