Bearberries - Arctostaphylos sp.
|Blueberries, Vaccinium uliginosum.|
The bearberries, Arctostaphylos spp., form mats that spread over large areas and often grow amongst blueberry and cranberry.
General Information and Anatomy
The leaves, which become a vibrant, scarlet red in the fall, are frequently mistaken for those of the net-veined willow. However, bearberry leaves are thinner and not as leathery to the touch. Their flowers are seldom noticed, but are greenish-white and urn-shaped. Berry colour varies among species: the alpine bearberry, A. alpina, produces black, shiny fruits; the red fruit bearberry, A. rubra, yields scarlet-coloured berries; and the common bearberry, A. uva-ursi, possesses dull red fruit. Bearberries are consumed by a variety of birds and mammals. Perhaps because of their granular texture and bland taste, Inuit frequently mix them with blueberries and crowberries.
A Low Arctic inhabitant, the small cranberry, Oxycoccus microcarpus, extends its range just beyond the treeline. This tiny, inconspicuous shrub is often buried in mounds of Sphagnum. The fruit is a reddish berry; flowers are dark pink, while leaves are evergreen and leathery. Despite its less than obvious presence, birds and mammals locate the plants and consume the berries.
The arctic blueberry, or bilberry, Vaccinium uliginosum, is among the most popular of arctic food plants. In the fall, blueberries provide an important staple for bears and many birds. The Inuit eat them fresh, or preserve them in seal oil to be consumed with fish or meat at a later date. The flowers form small, pink-to-reddish bells and develop into light green berries, which ripen to a deep blue – the "blueberry" with which most Canadians are familiar. Bilberry leaves are dull green and oval, but turn reddish in late summer.
The leaves of the mountain cranberry, Vaccinium vitis-idaea, form additional red leaves in late summer and fall, but their leaves are usually shiny and evergreen, as opposed to the dull, deciduous leaves of the bilberry. Mountain cranberry produces tart, red berries that persist on the plant throughout the winter and ripen after the first frosts of spring. At this point, there are few other plants with berries, so these are a welcome treat for mammals and birds that have survived the long winter. The fruits begin as white berries, turn a bright red, and then ripen to a maroon colour.
|iNaturalist||Bearberries and Manzanitas|