Russell Studebaker: Cranberry plants native to North America
BY RUSSELL STUDEBAKER In Our Gardens
Saturday, January 05, 2013
1/05/13 at 5:27 AM
What would our holiday tables and cuisine be without cranberries? Less colorful, healthy and nutritious for sure. Cranberries, Vaccinium macrocarpon, are indigenous to North America, including Canada, and northern Asia.
The etymology of cranberry has two origins. For one, cranberry flowers resemble the neck, head and bill of a crane. Also, they were called "crane berries" by early colonists because the native cranes fed on the berries. Later the word was shortened from "crane berry" to cranberry.
Wild harvested for centuries, they were first used as food by native Americans and especially in pemmican for the long, hard winters. Pemmican is made by pounding melted fat with dried jerky (meat such as venison or other game) and cranberries or other berries. The combination made a natural preservative and food for storage. Native Americans also used cranberries as dye, medicine and as food flavoring.
Native Americans also may have introduced these fruits to the Pilgrims in 1621, but there is not direct evidence that they were on that first shared Thanksgiving feast. They did show the European settlers that cranberries could be sweetened by adding maple syrup - some say that this probably was the creation of cranberry sauce. By the late 18th century, cranberries had become an ordinary staple served with meat in most colonial tables, and this was probably because they grew so plentifully on Cape Cod.
Last year I bought a plant, and it survived and grew in our terrible hot summer. Commercially, it takes about five years for plants to come into full bearing. Cranberries are one of three native American fruits harvested commercially. The high-bush cranberry is a different animal altogether, as it is a Viburnum shrub.
The plants grow two to six inches high and make a dense, small evergreen ground cover plant with bronzy new growth and purplish-red fall color. They require a moist or wet soil (more moist than blueberries); highly organic, acidic 3-5 pH; and sun. But in our climate partial sun is recommended. Horticulture professor Michael Dirr recommends a planting mix of half soil and half sphagnum peat moss. Plant two feet apart for a ground cover.
Its landscape value is for novelty, as an evergreen ground cover, and for container planting for its long slender, wiry, trailing vines. The flowers are perfect and self-fertile, dark pink with reflexed petals. Bees pollinate the flowers.
The berries are white before ripening and ripen in September and October. A TV advertisement by Ocean Spray cooperative, to which 65 percent of the North American cranberry industry belongs, shows cranberries being harvested in flooded fields. But they are not grown this way. Only after a harvester has beaten the berries from the vines are the fields flooded with water to float the berries for harvesting. For the fruit that will be sold fresh, 5 percent to 10 percent of the crop is dry harvested and has higher labor costs. Wisconsin produces more than half of the U.S. crop, and Massachusetts is the second.
Mail order source: R. H. Shumway's Nursery; Randolph, Wis., 800-342-9461, www.shumway.com. Plants are $10.95 each or two for $18.95.
Original Print Headline: Cranberry plants native to N. America
Russell Studebaker is a professional horticulturist and garden writer in Tulsa and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cranberries are one of three native North American fruits that have significant commercial importance. RUSSELL STUDEBAKER/Courtesy