Exploring my little piece of the planet

Posts tagged “berries

Velvet Leaved Blueberry

or Common Blueberry, Huckleberry
Vaccinium myrtilloides


According to Wildflowers of Alberta by R.G.H. Cormack (Hurtig 1977), there are, “About five very similar, low, healthy shrubs found in Alberta [that] go by the common name of Blueberry, Huckleberry or Bilberry. In fact, they are all so much alike that it is necessary to consult a flora or botanical key to tell them apart.”

So it is very possible that my specific identification for this plant is inaccurate and I would only be too grateful to anyone who could confirm or contradict it.

This delicious berry can distinguished from the dwarf blueberry (V. caespitosum) by its slightly taller and more open form, elliptic, smooth-edged leaves and prominent star-shaped calyx. It is also somewhat easier to pick for pies or jams (or eating on the spot, which is more my habit) since the berries are a wee bit larger and more visible among the leaves.

The blossom end of each berry, the calyx, forms the shape of a perfect five-pointed star; the elders of the tribe would tell of how the Great Spirit sent “star berries” to relieve the children’s hunger during a famine. (source)

As a child, I lived for two years in Newfoundland. One of my fondest memories is going out in a “Four-by-Four” with several families to pick blueberries. We were under instructions to make sure most of the berries went into our tins but that was extremely difficult. Large and juicy, these were temptations far too difficult to resist.

These are not those. Whether it is a matter of a differing species or ecosystems, the blueberries around Swan Hills are much more minute. It is rare to find such dense and burdened shrubs as I remember from Newfoundland; berry-picking is a labour of love.

Often after an acreage of forest has been clear-cut and before the application of devastating herbicides, an abundance of shrubs will spring up, among them several Vaccinium species. With an ear always to the sounds around, one forages a patch with caution. This is also the time of year when bears diligently gorge themselves to put in the necessary stores for the long winter ahead. It is not only humans and bears who appreciate this delectable berry. It is also important to birds, rodents and many insects. Deer will browse on the leaves and twigs. The critters return the favour by dropping the miniscule seeds.

They are pollinated by bees and other insects possibly including the infamous boreal black fly. The plant is host to the larva of the spring azure butterfly. (source)

But pick you must. Beyond the ambrosial flavour, blueberries and other members of the huge Vaccinium family are stong in antioxidants, Vitamin C, manganese and fiber along with many other nutrients. It was one of the most important fruits for boreal dwelling native people, who used the plant in many ways. The berries were preserved with a wide variety of methods for winter food. Berries, stems, leaves and roots were all employed medicinally from cancer treatments to “women’s medicine”. The berry juice was and still can be used as a natural dye.

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You might also enjoy my photographic narrative  How to Pick Blueberries in Northern Woods at On and Over the Hills.

 

Other Resources:

Plants of the Western Boreal Forest & Aspen Parkland by Derek Johnson et al. Lone Pine, Alberta 1995
Wildflowers of Alberta by R.G.H. Cormack. Hurtig, Alberta 1977

USDA Forest Service Fire Effects Information System (FEIS)
Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center (University of Texas)

Native Plant Database

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Strawberryleaf Raspberry

Rubus pedatus
~ also called Strawberry Bramble, 5-Leaved Bramble and Creeping Raspberry

I’m the kind of person that can have an engaging conversation with you and not be able to tell somebody later what you were wearing, so it was especially exciting for me when I noticed this little plant in a small deep-moss  clearing. It’s not so much that I’d never seen it before, it’s that I’d never really seen it!

Perhaps I had never seen it in bloom and may have mistaken its foliage for that of one of its cousins, the Dwarf Raspberry. In bloom I might have assumed that it was another relative, the Wild Strawberry. It’s very tiny.

A closer look reveals that this flower is quite different from a strawberry’s. The petals are more elongated and the centre was different. It had three very distinct superior ovaries with styles that turn pink along with the base of the petals and sepals as the flower matures.

The sepals are drooping at first, as you can see in the top picture and then in more mature blooms raised level below the petals. As the petals fall off it seems they continue to rise to enclose the fruit.

Single leaf and flower stalk emerge separately from the moss, about 5-7 centimetres high.

The leaves were different as well. At first I thought it had five leaflets on its palmately divided leaf, but the side leaflets are just so deeply cleft that there are actually only three.

Apparently the number of ovaries can vary as the fruit can have from 1-6 drupelets.

I had a really hard time identifying this plant. I couldn’t find it in any of my books, or through Internet searching so I posted it to a couple of groups on Flickr that help with this kind of thing. The following day I was very grateful to receive a positive ID from Tiggrx. I later found it in Wildflowers of Alberta by R.G.H. Cormack (Hurtig 1977) as a note within the description for the Dewberry.

There are literally hundreds of plants in the Rubus genus, which it is believed has survived for some 36,000 years and exists on all continents except Antarctica. This little treasure is just another little sibling in the family and I don’t know how long I’ve been rudely ignoring it. It is a beauty. It fully deserves the risk of getting a little damp as you lay down in the soft deep moss to spend some time getting to know it better.

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Resources:

Turner Photographics
E-Flora BC
USDA Plants Database

Many thanks to Tiggrx for identifying this plant for me.


Red & White Baneberry

Actaea rubra

“The generic name Actaea is derived from the Greek aktiai, meaning elder, to which the leaves bear resemblance; rubra alluding to the red berries…” (source)

Most of the sources I’ve found say that the berries can also be white, although Ontario Wildflowers lists the white baneberry as a separate species (A. pachypoda).  There are some good photos on that site as well, although their description of the berries of the red baneberry as ‘china white’ is a little confusing.

All parts of this member of the buttercup family are poisonous although several sources claim that native people did use it medicinally. “The name Baneberry refers to the plant’s toxicity, being derived from the Anglo-Saxon word for ‘murderous’ – bana.” (source)

It is apparently quite unpalatable, and there have been no reported deaths from it in North America. The European species has been linked to the deaths of children. (source) Some birds and small animals are able to digest it.


Lingonberry

Vaccinium vitas-idaea also called Bog-Cranberry and Lowbush Cranberry

Tiny and delightful treasures on the forest floor

Lingonberries, especially when not in bloom, can easily be confused with the Common Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi), historically known as Kinnikinnik. Around here, the lingonberries are a denser plant, while the bearberry seems to grow more openly, but I am never sure of my identification until the flowers bloom. A magnifying glass helps, as the lingonberry has bristle-like glands on the lower side of the leaf.

Lingonberry flowers stand out in the sunshine against a shaded forest ravine

Once in bloom, the flowers are, although similar, are distinguishable on close inspection. The bell of the bearberry’s flowers is ‘tucked-in’ or more urn-shaped.

Lingonberries growing among bunchberries in a little forest glade

Vaccinium have been used traditionally in North America for the cranberry sauces commonly served with turkey dinners at Christmas and Thanksgiving, although this northern species is only lately being tried as a commercial plant.

In early June the dark pink buds of Lingonberry are conspicuous above the forest floor mosses

Northern native people, however, have always known of and used lingonberries as food. In fact it was one of the most important berries for them and used almost exclusively in pemmican. The plant was also used medicinally, for jewelry, as a dye for porcupine quills and a tobacco-stretcher. (Source)

Lingonberry leaves are evergreen, helping to melt the snow above them in spring

In this Mi’kmaw legend, the cranberry (presumably lingonberry or a close relative) warded off bad magic. And who knows what cranberry sauce had to do with strawberries.


Low Bush-Cranberry

Also called Squashberry & Mooseberry (Viburnum edule). Confusingly they are also referred to in some parts as High Bush-Cranberry, which in my area is the common name for Viburnum Opulus

How about some more confusion: is this the Christmas fruit? No. Bush-Cranberries are not related to the cranberries associated with turkey dinners. Viburnum is a member of the Honeysuckle family while the berries grown for cranberry sauce (Vaccinium) are much more low-growing and have leathery leaves as do most plants in the Heath family.

However, bush-cranberries are edible although a little tart when fresh for most palates. They do make excellent jams and jellies though and are very healthy, being very high in Vitamin C. All parts of the plant have been used historically by the native people in North America  for centuries for not only food, but medicinally. (Source)

They were so prolific here on the Freeman River – mid August – I’ll have to go back next spring and take some pictures of the little white flower bunches that turn into these rich, juicy berries. I was surprised that they did not seem to have yet been significantly browsed by the forest critters.


Dwarf Raspberry

Dwarf or Stemless Raspberry / Dwarf Nagoonberry ( Rubus acaulis)

 

Though small, you’re not likely to miss this little treasure in the woods. The flower is brilliant pink and stands proudly above the shiny, textured leaves.

The delicious berries, however are a little more difficult to find, possibly because critters found them before you but also because they’re quite tiny – about 1cm. Indeed, they’re so good that I usually forget to take a picture before I eat them. 🙂