Vaccinium vitis-idaea

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 Vaccinium vitis-idaea subsp. var.  Cowberry
Foliage and fruit of var. vitis-idaea
Habit: shrub
Height: to
Width: to
6in 2ft4ft
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Width: 2 ft to 4 ft
Lifespan: perennial
Exposure: part-sun
Water: moist
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Minimum Temp: °Fwarning.png"°F" is not a number.
USDA Zones: 2 to 8.5
Sunset Zones:
Flower features:
Ericaceae > Vaccinium vitis-idaea var. ,

Vaccinium vitis-idaea (Cowberry [Europe][1] or Lingonberry [North America];[2] see below for other names) is a small evergreen shrub in the flowering plant family Ericaceae that bears edible fruit.

The native habitat is the circumboreal forests of northern Eurasia and North America, extending from cool temperate into subarctic climates. It is seldom cultivated, but the fruit are commonly collected in the wild.

Vaccinium vitis-idaea typically grows to 10–40 cm in height and has a compact spreading habit, often forming extensive dense clonal colonies spreading by underground rhizomes. The stems are light brown. The leaves are oval, 5–30 mm long, with an entire margin and often a notched apex. The flowers are bell-shaped, white to pale pink, 3–8 mm long, and produced in the early summer. The fruit, actually a false berry, is red, 6–10 mm diameter, with an acidic taste, ripening in late summer to autumn.[1][3]

The plant is only semi-woody but keeps its leaves all winter even in the coldest years, unusual for a broadleaf plant, though they are usually protected from severe cold by snow cover. It is extremely hardy, tolerating −40 °C or lower, but grows poorly where summers are hot. It prefers some shade (as from a forest canopy) and constantly moist, acidic soil. Nutrient-poor soils are tolerated but not alkaline soils.

Standard Cyclopedia of Horticulture

Vaccinium vitis-idaea, Linn. (Vitis-Idaea Vitis-Idaea, Brit.). Mountain Cranberry. Cowberry. Partridge Berry in the N. Foxberry. Plants low, 6-10 in. long, creeping, glabrous: lvs. coriaceous, evergreen, obovate or oval, 1/4 – 3/4 in. long obtuse, dark green and shining above, with blackish bristly points beneath: fls. in short subterminal racemes; corolla bell-shaped, white or rose-colored, 4-cleft: berries dark red, acid. Arctic region, to the coast and mountains of New England, Minn., and Brit. Col.—"The frs., which are rather larger than currants, acid and somewhat bitter when uncooked, are largely used in the more northern regions for tarts, jellies, and preserves, or as a substitute for the common cranberry. According to Macoun, the fishermen's families along the Gaspe coast and the north shore of the Gulf of St. Lawrence gather the fr. of this species in large quantities for their own use and for sale, calling it 'low-bush cranberry.' Throughout the whole of N. Canada, hunters and trappers, as well as the native Indians, have frequently to depend upon it for food. It is valuable for the shrubbery border, where the strong contrast of the dark green foliage and the bright colored persistent fr. is very striking."

The above text is from the Standard Cyclopedia of Horticulture. It may be out of date, but still contains valuable and interesting information which can be incorporated into the remainder of the article. Click on "Collapse" in the header to hide this text.

More information about this species can be found on the genus page.


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There are two very similar regional varieties or subspecies of Vaccinium vitis-idaea, one in Eurasia and one in North America; they differ in leaf size, though with some overlap:

  • Vaccinium vitis-idaea var. vitis-idaea L. (syn. Vaccinium vitis-idaea subsp. vitis-idaea). Cowberry. Eurasia. Leaves 10–30 mm long.[1]
  • Vaccinium vitis-idaea var. minus Lodd. (syn. Vaccinium vitis-idaea subsp. minus (Lodd.) Hultén). Lingonberry. North America. Leaves 5–18 mm long.[3]


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