Vaccinium vitis-idaea (Lingonberry)
|Also known as:||Cowberry, Mountain Cranberry|
|Life cycle:||perennial woody|
|Habitat:||part shade, shade, sun; sphagnum bogs, exposed bedrock along Lake Superior|
|Plant height:||2 to 10 inches|
|Wetland Indicator Status:||GP: FAC MW: FAC NCNE: FAC|
|MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):|
|National distribution (click map to enlarge):|
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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:
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.
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.
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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Photos by K. Chayka taken in Aitkin County. Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in Aitkin and St. Louis counties.
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