Lingonberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea)

Also known as: cowberry, dry ground cranberry, foxberry, mountain cranberry, northern mountain cranberry, partridgeberry, red whortleberry, rock cranberry, wolfberry
Synonyms: Vaccinium vitis-idaea var. minus, Vaccinium vitis-idaea var. punctatum, Vaccinium vitis-idaea var. vitis-idaea
GenusVaccinium (1)
SizeHeight: up to 30 cm (2)

The lingonberry has yet to be classified by the IUCN.

A type of cranberry, the lingonberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea) is a small, evergreen shrub with edible red berries. It has creeping, spreading shoots and typically grows in low, dense mats (3) (4) (5) (6).

The young stems of the lingonberry are green and covered in very fine, soft hairs, but become darker and hairless with age (2) (3) (4). The small, oval leaves measure up to two to three centimetres in length and grow at alternating points along the stem (2) (3) (5) (7). The leaves have smooth edges and are bright green and leathery, with a glossy upper surface and small, scattered black dots underneath (3) (4) (5) (6) (7).

The lingonberry produces white to pinkish, bell-shaped flowers, which hang in small clusters from the stem (2) (4) (5) (6) (7). Each flower measures up to eight millimetres in length (7) and has four to five petals, which are fused to form a tube at the base (3) (5) (8). The fruits of the lingonberry are round, glossy and red, and vary from 5 to 12 millimetres in diameter (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7).

There are two subspecies of the lingonberry, Vaccinium vitis-idaea vitis-idaea and Vaccinium vitis-idaea minus (1) (4) (6) (9). The lingonberry sometimes hybridises with Vaccinium myrtillus in Europe, producing a form known as Vaccinium x intermedium (2) (4).

The lingonberry grows throughout Arctic regions of the northern hemisphere, in North America, Greenland, northern Europe and Asia (3) (4) (5). In North America, it ranges from Alaska, across Canada, and south into the north-eastern United States (3) (4) (6) (9).

A hardy species inhabiting Arctic and sub-Arctic regions, the lingonberry can be found in a variety of habitats, from woodland and pine forest, to bogs, moors, heaths, tundra and even barren rocky areas, including cliffs and mountain summits (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7).

The lingonberry is sometimes known as the ‘dry cranberry’ as it tends to prefer drier conditions than its relatives (3). Like many Ericaceae species, it is usually found in acidic soils (7) (8).

The lingonberry often has two flowering periods each year, the first from April to June and the second from late July to September (3). Its many-seeded berries ripen between July and August and again between September to November, or from late August to September if there has been only one flowering period (3). The berries sometimes remain on the plant over winter (7).

Like other species in the Ericaceae family, the lingonberry is likely to be dependent to some extent on symbiotic fungi which form a close association, known as a ‘mycorrhiza’, with its roots. This fungus-root association helps the plant to take up nutrients more efficiently (8).

The lingonberry is listed as ‘Endangered’ in the U.S. states of Massachusetts, Michigan and Wisconsin, and as a species of ‘Special Concern’ in Connecticut (9). However, there is little other information available on the conservation status of this small shrub or on any potential threats it may face.

Regarded as having a richer, less tart flavour than the fruits of the related American cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon) (3), the berries of the lingonberry are widely harvested for use in jams, sauces and other foods, as well as for their medicinal properties (3) (5). Lingonberries are also grown commercially in many areas, and this species is becoming increasingly popular in cultivation (3). However, the harvest of this species is not currently known to threaten its wild populations.

There are no specific conservation measures currently known to be in place for the lingonberry.

Find out more about the lingonberry:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:

  1. Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS) (July, 2011)
  2. Interactive Flora of NW Europe - Cowberry (July, 2011)
  3. Trehane, J. (2004) Blueberries, Cranberries and Other Vacciniums. Royal Horticultural Society and Timber Press, Portland, Oregon.
  4. Flora of North America - Vaccinium vitis-idaea (July, 2011)
  5. Taylor, R.J. and Douglas, G.W. (1995) Mountain Plants of the Pacific Northwest: A Field Guide to Washington, Western British Columbia, and Southeastern Alaska. Mountain Press Publishing Company, Missoula, Montana.
  6. Petrides, G.A. (1972) A Field Guide to Trees and Shrubs: Northeastern and North-Central United States and Southeastern and South-Central Canada. Houghton Mifflin Company, New York.
  7. Elias, T.S. and Dykeman, P.A. (2009) Edible Wild Plants: A North American Field Guide to Over 200 Natural Foods. Sterling Publishing, New York.
  8. Heywood, V.H. (1978) Flowering Plants of the World. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  9. USDA PLANTS Database - Lingonberry, Vaccinium vitis-idaea (July, 2011)