What is a Mountain Cranberry?

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  • Written By: J.M. Densing
  • Edited By: R. Halprin
  • Last Modified Date: 20 January 2019
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A Mountain cranberry, scientific name is Vaccinium vitis-idaea, is an evergreen flowering shrub that produces edible red berries. Some other common names for this plant are lingonberry and cowberry. It is found in many areas of the world, both occurring naturally and as a landscaping plant. It makes an attractive addition to the garden and its edible berries have several uses. In cultivation, it is a relatively low maintenance plant.

The mountain cranberry is a low-growing shrub that usually grows to a height of 6 to 12 inches (15 to 30.5 cm), and spreads a great deal, occasionally forming a matted surface. The stems are woody, with numerous branches and shoots trailing in many directions. The thick, leathery, oval shaped leaves can last for as long as three years. They are dark green on top, with a lighter green underneath, and are usually no bigger than a fingernail.

In late May to early June, the mountain cranberry produces pale pink flowers. The flowers bloom in droopy clusters at the tips of the stems, and they are bell shaped with unseparated petals. After its flowers are spent, from July to September the shrub produces small, shiny, edible red berries that measure approximately 0.25 to 0.5 inches (0.6 to 1.3 cm) across.


The mountain cranberry is primarily found in the northern regions of North America, Europe, and Asia, particularly in alpine and Arctic areas. The variable habitats of the plant include bogs, forest swamps, moors, peatlands, sand dunes, and temperate forests. In certain cases, the mountain cranberry has even been known to grow in tree stumps. The ideal climate is cool and moist, but the leaves are able to store water to allow the shrub to thrive in drier conditions as well.

In addition to growing in the wild, the mountain cranberry is used in landscaping, often in wildflower gardens, as a border or bed plant, or in rock gardens. It is attractive to butterflies for the nectar and to birds that eat the berries. It is also grown just for berry production. The berries can be used to make jam and preserves, sauces, syrups, wine, and other beverages.

When grown in cultivation, the mountain cranberry is generally an easy-to-maintain plant. It does well in acidic, sandy soil that has a small amount of organic matter. It can survive in shady areas, but produces the most flowers and berries when planted in full sun. It should be watered on a regular basis and fertilized as needed.



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