Bogs and Acidic Peatlands of Southern New England by Marsha C. Salett
Vaccinium macrocarpon Ait.
ERICACEAE (Heath Family)
EtymologyVaccinium, the ancient Latin name for bilberry; macrocarpon means large-fruited, from the Greek: macro = long or large + carpa = fruit.
Synonyms (Common Name)Large Cranberry, Marshberry, Sourberry, Bounceberry
DescriptionAmerican Cranberry is a low, trailing, evergreen shrub that forms dense mats. Along with blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum) and grape (Vitis labrusca), American Cranberry is one of three fruits native to New England that have been cultivated successfully. Cultivars of V. macrocarpon are the staple of the cranberry industry, but the "ruby of the bog" still grows wild in natural peatlands. Cranberry flowers resemble the head and neck of a crane. Hence, the name cranberry comes from "crane's berry."
Wetland indicator statusOBL
Plant Height4-12 inches
LeavesEvergreen, alternate, simple, entire, 1/4 - 3/4" long; oblong to elliptical, rounded tip; leathery; shiny, dark green above; underside is pale; maroon-brown in winter.
Flower/InflorescencePale pink, small (1/2"); long orange stamens and red style protrude "beaklike" from the center of four recurved petals; single or in pairs on slender stalks that arise from mid- to lower leaf axils of the upright branches.
Flowering PeriodJune-August
FruitBerry, bright red, 1/2-7/8" wide; shape varies -- round, pear-shaped or oval-oblong; edible, tart -- the cultivated cranberry.
Fruiting PeriodSeptember-November
HabitatBogs, acidic peatlands, interdune swales.
RangeNewfoundland to Manitoba; south to Virginia, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota; mountains to North Carolina and Tennessee.
Larch (Larix laricina)
Northern Bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica)
Leatherleaf (Chamaedaphne calyculata)
Sheep Laurel (Kalmia angustifolia)
Swamp Azalea (Rhododendron viscosum)
Sweet Gale (Myrica gale)
Herbs/Groundcovers: Sphagnum mosses
Pitcher Plant (Sarracenia purpurea)
Round-leaved Sundew (Drosera rotundiflora)
Spatulate-leaved Sundew (Drosera intermedia)
Tawny Cotton Grass (Eriophorum virginicum)
Similar Species
Small Cranberry (Vaccinium oxycoccus) grows in more acidic, oligotrophic habitats, although sometimes the two cranberries are found together. Small Cranberry has smaller leaves with white undersides, pointed tips and inrolled margins. The leaf tips of American Cranberry are rounded and the margins are flat. Another good diagnostic is location of the flower/fruit stalks. On American Cranberry, the stalks arise from mid-branch, while on Small Cranberry, the stalks are usually at the tip of the branch.
Creeping Snowberry (Gaultheria hispidula) has small, white flowers and berries.
Seasonal Diagnostics
Spring: Pink flowers in June and July.
Summer: Pale green unripe berries.
Fall: Ripe, bright or dark red berries that persist into winter.
Winter: Evergreen leaves turn maroon-brown.
(c) 1998-2006 Marsha C. Salett