Vaccinium uliginosum is native to cool temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere, at low altitudes in the Arctic, and at high altitudes south to the Pyrenees, the Alps, and the Caucasus in Europe, the mountains of Mongolia, northern China, the Korean Peninsula and central Japan in Asia, and the Sierra Nevada in California and the Rocky Mountains in Utah in North America.
It grows on wet acidic soils on heathland, moorland, tundra, and in the understory of coniferous forests, from sea level in the Arctic, up to 3,400 metres (11,200 ft) altitude in the south of the range.
Vaccinium uliginosum is a small deciduous shrub growing to 10–75 cm (4–30 in) tall, rarely 1 m (3.3 ft) tall, with brown stems (unlike the green stems of the closely related bilberry). The leaves are oval, 4–30 mm (0.16–1.18 in) long and 2–15 mm (0.08–0.59 in) wide, blue-green with pale net-like veins, with a smooth margin and rounded apex.
The flowers are pendulous, urn-shaped, pale pink, 4–6 mm (0.16–0.24 in) long, produced in mid spring. The fruit is a dark blue-black berry 5–8 mm (0.20–0.31 in) diameter, with a white flesh, edible and sweet when ripe in late summer.
Some authors separate them, but these are not considered distinct by all authorities. The subspecies are: