Vaccinium vitis-idaea (Lingonberry)

Plant Info
Also known as: Cowberry, Mountain Cranberry
Genus:Vaccinium
Family:Ericaceae (Heath)
Life cycle:perennial woody
Origin:native
Habitat:part shade, shade, sun; sphagnum bogs, exposed bedrock along Lake Superior
Bloom season:June
Plant height:2 to 10 inches
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: FAC MW: FAC NCNE: FAC
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

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Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: 5-petals Flower shape: bell Cluster type: raceme

[photo of flowers] Short raceme of 3 to 10 stalked, nodding flowers at the tips of 1-year-old branches. Flowers are bell shaped, ¼ inch or less long and about as wide, white to pinkish with 4 petals fused for at least half their length, the triangular tips curled back. Inside the bell is a ring of stamens around a single, slender style. The calyx is pale green to reddish, short with 4 small, thin triangular lobes. the calyx and flower stalk are hairless. At the base of each flower stalk is a small, thin, scale-like bract.

Leaves and stems: Leaf attachment: alternate Leaf type: simple

[photo of leaves] Leaves are simple and alternate, thick and leathery, 1/3 to ¾ inch long and less than 1/3 inch wide, broadly elliptic but often widest above the middle and more tapered towards the base, the tip rounded with an obscure, slightly notched tip. Blade edges are smooth, rolled under, the upper surface dark green and shiny.

[photo of black glands on leaf underside] The lower surface is pale green and dull with scattered dark, bristly glands, and sometimes has very fine hairs along  the midvein. Branches are green, red or brownish tinged, and minutely hairy. Plants can create dense colonies from spreading rhizomes.

Fruit: Fruit type: berry/drupe

[photo of developing fruit] The fruit is a round berry, up to 1/3 inch diameter, maturing to dark red.

Notes:

Lingonberry is a species of the arctic and subarctic regions around the world, its range extending southward into the lower 48 states only in northern Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan, and in New England. In higher latitudes it can inhabit, open sandy forests, rock outcrops and open sunny meadows, in Minnesota it is widespread but sporadic and only in spruce and cedar sphagnum bogs. In Wisconsin, where it is an Endangered species, it is also found on mossy cliffs along Lake Superior. Its juicy, tart, red berries are rarely pursued by local foragers, though wild berries are harvested commercially in Newfoundland. It has a long history of cultivation in Europe and, as recently as just the 1990s, is being produced commercially on a limited basis in Wisconsin. It could most easily be confused with Bearberry (Arctostaphyllos uva-ursi), a persistently evergreen species that inhabits semi-open sandy and rocky habitats down into SE Minnesota. But Bearberry flowers are more urn-shaped, narrowing around the opening with 5 fused petals, often quite deep pink, and its leaves lack the black glands on the underside. Its red berries are only semi-edible, containing toxins that can cause illness if consumed in too large of quantities, besides being rather bland and tasteless.

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka taken in Aitkin County. Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in Aitkin and St. Louis counties.

Comments

Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Posted by: Gabriel - Grand Marais
on: 2016-05-19 12:12:13

Saw this last October in Grand Marais on Artists' Point, growing in a circle as groundcover around a Labrador tea plant. It was a perfect pairing, almost like a garden. The North American subspecies (Vaccinium vitis-idaea subsp. minus) is half as high as the European and Asian one (Vaccinium vitis-idaea subsp. vitis-idaea), the leaves and flowers are smaller and cuter, and it branches a bit more. (Not sure if these subspecies names are valid; sources online differ.) I have both in my garden growing close together.

Posted by: luciearl - Fairview Township
on: 2017-05-14 13:45:18

I have a few large patches of this. Pretty little flowers in the spring.

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