- Vaccinium, an ancient name with ambiguous origins
- vitis-idaea, from the Latin, "vine of Mount Ida"
- Mountain Cranberry, from
- Other common names include: lowbush cranberry, dry ground cranberry, moss
cranberry, alpine cranberry, shore cranberry, rock cranberry, lingenberry,
lingen, lingon, lingonberry, partridgeberry, cowberry, foxberry, redberries,
red whortleberry, vine of Mount Ida, tyttebær (Nor),
Lus nam Braoileag (Gaelic)
- Kingdom Plantae, the Plants
- Division Magnoliophyta, the Angiosperms (flowering plants)
- Class Magnoliopsida, the Dicotyledons
- Subclass Dilleniidae
- Order Ericales
- Family Ericaceae, the Heaths, with Bog Rosemaries
(Andromeda spp.), Bearberry (Arctostaphyllos
uva-ursi), Leatherleaf (Chamaedaphne
calyculata), Bog Laurel (Kalmia
polifolia), Labrador Teas (Ledum
spp.), and the blueberries, bilberries, and cranberries (Vaccinium
- Genus Vaccinium, with the bilberries and blueberries
- Taxonomic Serial Number: 524790
- Also known as Vaccinium jesoense, Vaccinium vitis-idaea var.
vitis-idaea var. punctata
- Mountain cranberry is a member of the section Vitis-idaea within
the whortleberry subfamily (Vaccinoideae) of the heath family (Ericaceae).
It is considered intermediate between the true blueberries (subgenus Cyanococcus)
and the cranberries (subgenus Oxycoccus). Two subspecies, spp. minus
and ssp. vitis-idaea, have been delineated on the basis of plant
height and form.
- A low, creeping, evergreen subshrub that commonly reaches 2"-6" in height.
It typically grows in dense rhizomatous colonies and frequently forms mats.
- Stems semi-woody, slender and trailing, bearing numerous shoots
1-2 mm in diameter.
- Roots consist of tap roots with finely divided rootlets at the extremities
and adventitious roots occurring at nodes along creeping stems and rhizomes.
The branched rhizomes have numerous hairlike roots. Maximum rooting depths
2"-11". 80% of the total biomass of mature plants is underground.
- Leaves simple, thick, leathery, and evergreen; are obovate, oblong,
or elliptic, alternating in a spiral. Upper surface dark green; the lower
surface pale green, waxy with black glandular dots, turning purplish in
fall. Leaves may persist for up to 3 years.
- Plants become dormant by fall.
- Flowers develop from buds initiated the previous year, occurring
on terminal racemes singly or in groups of up to 15.
- Fruit a bright to dark red, globular berry approximately 1/4" to
1/2" in diameter. The four-celled berries are acidic to sour or bitter.
Yellow, short-beaked seeds average 0.04" in length.
Subspecies vitis-idaea typically taller (12" or more)
than the subspecies minus (under 8") with larger leaves. Details
of flower form also differ.
- Circumpolar, circumboreal species throughout parts of North America, Eurasia,
- The New World subspecies (ssp. minus) extends from NW Greenland
across the Canadian Arctic south to New England, west to the Great Lakes
and British Columbia to islands in the Bering Sea. In North America, mountain
cranberry is restricted to areas north of the glacial boundary.
- The subspecies vitis-idaea occurs throughout northern Europe from
Scandinavia to northern Italy and the Caucasus, across northern Siberia
and Japan south into northern China and Korea.
- Northern temperate forests, arctic and alpine communities. At the southern
edge of its range, occurs primarily in bogs, but in the north grows on
both wet and dry sites. Also on high moors, heath barrens, sand dunes,
and in peatlands, forest swamps, and bogs. In mature forests, plants often
grow on top of decaying tree stumps.
- Occurs in a diverse array of communities, particularly as understory
dominant in Black Spruce/Feathermoss, White Spruce, and Jack Pine communities.
Other common overstory dominants or codominants include tamarack (Larix
laricina), aspen, and birches (Betula spp.). Mountain
cranberry also grows in a variety of dwarf shrub, dwarf birch-willow,
and tundra shrub tussock communities.
- Soils: Grows on shallow, poorly developed mineral soil as well as
on drained peat. Soils often of low fertility with little calcium but may
be high in decaying organics. Commonly grows on acidic sandy loams or loamy
clays; poorest vegetative growth on sandy soils. Soil pH ranges from 2.7
to 8.2, but best growth at 4.0 to 4.9. Soils derived from a variety of
parent materials, including sandstone, gneiss, granite, and glacial outwash
sands and gravel.
- Not generally considered a pioneer species but does occur in early stages
in some communities. Persists indefinitely unless shaded out by conifers.
- Occurs in a variety of communities across a wide climatic range. It persists
under a regime of relatively frequent fires but also grows in areas that
- In many forest communities, requires fire for its maintenance. Increases
in cover and vigor after fire are commonly observed. Generally reestablishes
a site through sprouting from rhizomes and aerial stems. Very limited reestablishment
may occur on exceptional sites in good years by seed transported from off-site.
Underground regenerative structures generally survive light fires.
Plants often survive even when aerial portions are consumed by fire. However,
plants may be killed by moderate to heavy, duff-consuming fires. Survival
is related to many factors including soil moisture levels, season of burn,
fire severity and intensity, and rhizome depth. The heat-sensitive seeds
of mountain cranberry are usually destroyed by fire; reestablishment through
seed is extremely rare.
- Trees: Paper Birch (Betula
papyrifera), White Spruce (Picea
glauca), Black Spruce (Picea
mariana), Jack Pine (Pinus
- Shrubs: Labrador Tea (Ledum
groenlandicum), Prickly Rose (Rosa
acicularis), Willows (Salix spp.)
- Herbs: Bluejoint Reedgrass (Calamagrostis canadensis), Sedges
(Carex spp.), Fireweed (Chamerion angustifolium), Cottongrass
(Eriophorum vaginatum), Twinflower (Linnaea borealis), Canada
Mayflower (Maianthemum canadense),
- Ground Covers: Feathermosses
- Mammals: Browse readily eaten by black bear, moose, and snowshoe
hare. Many species feed on fruit left on the ground from the previous year.
The red-backed vole eats large quantities of mountain cranberry fruit
during the fall. Berries are a primary winter food source as well; the
rodents burrow under snow to reach the persistent fruit. The red fox also
consumes large amounts of fruit during late fall. Mountain cranberry fruit
is an important black bear food in many areas. Berries remain on the plant
over winter, and black bears begin feeding on berries during the early
spring as soon as the snow has melted. Fruit again assumes importance in
black bear diets during the fall . Many other mammals, including the polar
bear, eastern chipmunk, and white-footed mouse, also feed on the fruit
of mountain cranberry. Fruits of many Vacciniums are readily eaten by species
such as the red squirrel, gray fox, skunks, and chipmunks
- Birds: Berries are an important Spruce Grouse food. In many areas, berries
are an essential food source for birds migrating northward in the spring.
Common raven, ruffed grouse, spruce grouse, whimbrel, herring gull, Canada
goose, and many species of songbirds, such as the American robin, scarlet
tanager, and thrushes, readily consume the fruit.
- Native Americans and indigenous peoples of Eurasia used the leaves and
fruit as food or medicine. Preparations made from the leaves were used
to treat bladder problems, gout, and rheumatism. Medicinal fruit jellies
were used to treat sore throats and colds. The Slave, Athabaska, Cree,
and Inuit people ate the fruit fresh and preserved them for winter use.
Berries were often boiled and mixed with oil to facilitate storage for
- Fruit can be eaten raw or cooked to make a tart sauce. Berries are used
to make preserves, jam, jelly, candy, syrup, pickles, juice beverages,
and wine. Fruit can be added to rose hips to make a tasty jelly, or added
to various ice cream products.
- Fruit is widely processed and marketed in Japan and Europe and is harvested
commercially in parts of Alaska, Scandinavia, Russia, and Canada. Large
amounts of fruit are imported into the US annually, much of this consumed
by peoples of Scandinavian descent who use the so-called "Swedish lingenberry"
in traditional dishes.
- Arbutin, which is obtained from the leaves and stems, is used by the pharmaceutical
industry in preparations used to treat intestinal disorders.
- Reproduces by seed and vegetatively by rhizomes
- Seed: Few flowers are produced until plants reach 5-10 years of
age. Pollinated by bumblebees (Bombus spp.) and bee flies (syrphid
flies). Plants may be self or cross pollinated, but fruit set is much greater
after cross pollination. Berries are often produced in abundance, with
3-15 seeds per berry. Seeds are dispersed by birds and mammals.
- Germination: Seed can germinate on bare ground, but only if conditions
are favorable. Fresh seed generally exhibits best germination.
- Seedlings are rarely observed in the field.
- Vegetative regeneration of primary importance. Plants commonly expand
through horizontal rhizomes. Rhizomes may sprout singly or in groups of
1 or 2 per square meter. Large, older clones may be separated into numerous
daughter clones by disturbances such as frost, fire, or burrowing mammals.
Rhizome depth is inversely related to the thickness of soil organic layers.
Rhizomes grow well in peat but can also penetrate to mineral soil. The
trailing or creeping stems also root at the nodes.
- Readily propagated from seed, following cold stratification, and stem or
- Ggood germination has been reported after stratification at 32 to 41 degrees
F for up to 5 months.
- Stem cuttings root easily if planted in the spring or early fall but exhibit
slow rhizome development and poor subsequent vegetative spread. Clumps
can be divided and transplanted onto disturbed sites. Survival of these
transplants is variable, ranging from 30%-90%.
- Sandy, acidic soil (pH 5-6) with at least 2% organic matter is reported
to be the best field medium for establishment and early growth
- Forms a dense, attractive mat and has been planted as an ornamental ground
cover. It was first cultivated in 1789. Has shown promise for use in developing
hardy fruit-producing cultivars.
- Roots and rhizomes undergo two periods of active growth annually in early
spring and fall.
- Fruit production varies widely according to geographic location,
site factors such as shade and soil, annual weather conditions, and the
genetic make-up of the individual clone. Plants growing in the shade rarely
produce fruit or flowers, but plants growing in full sun commonly bear
an abundance of fruit. Yields generally greater on peat than on mineral
soil. In harsh arctic environments, only plants in protected areas, such
as on south facing rock crevices, flower.
- Cultivation: Generally responds more favorably to fertilizer and
irrigation than do other members of the genus. However, the application
of fertilizer does not always increase fruit yields. Comparatively little
fertilizer is required for good growth and development; if too much is
added, vegetative growth may be promoted at the expense of fruit production.
Where weeds are a problem, fertilizer may increase competitors at the expense
of mountain cranberry. Mulches such as milled peat can increase fruit production
in some instances.
- Chemical response: Susceptible to herbicides such as 2,4-D. These
herbicides cause browning of stems and leaves and at high concentrations
can kill the plants.
- Damage/disease: Can be killed by exposure to cold temperatures in
the absence of a protective snow cover. Unacclimated plants can be killed
by exposure to temperatures of 28 degrees F or below; acclimated plants
can survive exposure to temperatures as low as 8 degrees F. Susceptible
to several diseases and insect infestations.
Last updated on 9 August 1999