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Small Cranberry

Vaccinium microcarpum

  • Family: Heather Family – Ericaceae
  • Growing form: Perennial dwarf shrub.
  • Height: Around 5 cm (2 in.), creeping shoots 10–30 cm (4–12 in.) long. Stem limp, creeping, delicately thread-like, tip glabrous–sparsely and finely haired.
  • Flower: Corolla wheel-shaped, approx. 4 mm (0.16 in.) broad, red–pink, fused, very deeply 4–5-lobed. Lobes recurved. Sepals 4, glabrous. Stamens 4 or 8. A single carpel. Flowers usually solitary terminating branches; flower-stalks long, erect, virtually glabrous.
  • Leaves: Alternate, short-stalked, overwintering. Blade triangularly ovate, narrow, tapered, leathery, dark green and shiny on top, underside light-coloured, with entire, revolute margins.
  • Fruit: Ovoid–spherical, 5–8 mm (0.2–0.32 in.) long, dark red, juicy, acidic, sweeter after frost.
  • Habitat: Swamps and bogs, dryish hummocks.
  • Flowering time: June–July.

It is little known that Finnish bogs actually have two species of cranberry; cranberry itself (V. oxycoccos) and small cranberry. When people speak about cranberry they are almost always referring to the former, although they are both just as common. Only in the most northern parts of Lapland, where cranberry doesn’t grow, is small cranberry the king of the hill. Small cranberry’s habitats are usually smaller than its larger relative’s: it grows on bog moss hummocks and shrubby bogs which one can even walk through without getting wet shoes; cranberry favours wet and sinking sedgy ground and mossy places.

The main reason that small cranberry is so unknown is probably because of its small berries: only cranberry-sized berries are worth picking. Otherwise, the plant is at least half as small as cranberry but otherwise quite similar. A good way to tell the species apart is the flower-stalk, which is almost glabrous on small cranberry but hairy on cranberry plants. Small cranberry usually only has one flower, cranberry has 2–4.

Finnish bogs were at one time eagerly drained for farming and forestry, and peat-digging is still destroying them. Cranberry habitats have declined to the point that Finland is no longer able to satisfy domestic demand: it is now imported, and large-berried American varieties are also cultivated. In Finland it is unable to ripen its berries before winter arrives, so the cultivation of domestic varieties is being studied, although no results have been published yet.

Other species from the same genus
Other species from the same family

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