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northern mountain cranberry
Vacinium vitis-idaea ssp. minus
Vaccinium vitis-idaea var. punctatum
none (synonyms are sometimes listed as subspecies – no longer accepted, differentiated only by leaf size)
Genus: Vaccinium (blueberries, huckleberry, blueberry)
Duration – Growth Habit
Perennial – Shrub/subshrub
Identification and Information
The lingonberry (called lowbush cranberry commonly in Alaska, although it has many common names), is a small perennial subshrub with small white or pink flowers that ripen into red berries. It grows from fibrous roots. The stems are horizontal at the ground, branching extensively, often forming a mat. The aerial stems are erect and can be 10-30 cm tall (sometimes shorter). The evergreen leaves are alternately distributed along the stems, attached via 1-1.5 mm long petioles. The leaf blades are oblong or elliptic, typically 4-12 mm long, veined (with a strong central vein), and slightly rolled under at the margins.
The inflorescence is terminal on the flowering stems with 2-7 small, nodding flowers. The flower pedicels are very short (1-2 mm long). The bract leaves are rose-colored and 2-5 mm long. The sepals are wine-colored and only about 1 mm wide. The petals (corolla) are fused, bell-shaped, about 5 mm long, and are pink or white. The filaments and anthers are 1.5 mm long and are inside the bell. The flower has a single style and an inferior ovary with 4 carpels. The berries are red or purplish-red and 5-10 mm in diameter.
For information only (typically historical) – I take no responsibility for adverse effects from the use of any plant.
The berries of the lingonberry are a popular food with many health benefits being high in vitamins, minerals, amino acids, antioxidants, and omega-3 fatty acids. They can be eaten raw or cooked, preserved or frozen for use in winter. They are frequently used to make juice, jam, sauces, syrups, desserts, and liqueurs. The Tanana Athabaskans used the berries as a cold remedy or cough medicine and Gwich’in used it to treat kidney problems. Additionally, the leaves can be used to make tea, which can provide cough relief.
The berries often taste slightly acidic, but mellow and sweeten a bit in the fall (we typically pick them after the first frost as they are often more mealy before then).
Distribution and Habitat
Vaccinium vitis-idaea has a widespread circumboreal distribution including Alaska, Canada, some New England, and northern midwest states in the US, Greenland, Iceland, most of Europe, Siberia, China, Japan and both Koreas.
It’s found in tundra, ridges, mountain summits, alpine grasslands, bogs, and woodlands, tending to live in imperfectly drained soil.
|Rank||Scientific Name (Common Name)|
|Kingdom||Plantae (plantes, Planta, Vegetal, plants)|
|Subkingdom||Viridiplantae (green plants)|
|Infrakingdom||Streptophyta (land plants)|
|Division||Tracheophyta (vascular plants, tracheophytes)|
|Subdivision||Spermatophytina (spermatophytes, seed plants, phanérogames)|
|Family||Ericaceae (heaths, éricacées)|
|Genus||Vaccinium L. (blueberries, huckleberry, blueberry)|
|Species||Vaccinium vitis-idaea L. (lingonberry, northern mountain cranberry)|
References and Further Reading
Field Guide to Alaskan Wildflowers, Pratt, Verna E. pg. 69
Classification and Taxonomy
V. vitis-idaea L. Taxonomic Serial No.: 505637, ITIS Database
V. vitis-idaea L. lingonberry, USDA Database
V. vitis-idaea L., Native American Ethnobotany Database
Nutritional Composition and Antioxidant Properties of Fruits and Vegetables 2020, Pages 437-455, Ross, Kelly, Siow, Yaw, Debnath, Samir
Map and Distribution
V. vitis-idaea Mountain Cranberry, NatureServe Explorer
V. vitis-idaea L. Published in: Sp. Pl.: 351 (1753), GBIF Database
Description and Information
V. vitis-idaea Linnaeus, Sp. Pl. 1: 351. 1753., Flora of North America
V. vitis-idaea L. subsp. minus (Lodd.) Hultén, Flora of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago