Tuesday, June 5, 2012

High-bush cranberries are blooming in Fairbanks

 The high-bush cranberries in our front yard are in full bloom. These are “Alaskan” high-bush cranberries (Viburnum edule). They are not to be confused with American high-bush cranberries (Viburnum trilobum), even though there is apparently a cultivar of Viburnum trilobum that is named “Alaska.” (If you really want to get confused, in eastern Canada Viburnum edule is called “low-bush” cranberry—and it isn’t really a cranberry anyway.)

Viburnum edule is a shrub indigenous to Alaska and much of Canada. It can grow up to eight feet tall, with reddish to dark grey bark. The flowers are tiny, only about a ¼” in diameter, and they grow in bunches. For comparison, the leaves in the photos are about 3 ½” to 4” long. 

Eventually red berries form. (Technically they’re drupes, like cherries and apricots—with a single pit.) The berries are juicy and sour, with a pungent aroma. Autumn isn’t autumn for me unless the aroma of high-bush cranberries is wafting through the woods. (Of course, the berries do have a slightly musty scent, and some people say the aroma is more like the smell of old gym sneakers.)

We have a high-bush cranberry hedge in our front yard about 40 feet long. It provides plenty of berries for delicious jelly and other fruit products. The berries are high in vitamins A and C, and one of our favorite ways of consuming them is as a tisane (herbal tea).

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