The nature of things
Cowberries and their kind
WILD, wind-blasted moors have their own sort of beauty and a hunkered-down flora precisely attuned to nutrient-poor, but wellwatered ground. Such places, chiefly the heaths and mountains of North Wales, the Pennines and Scotland, host our greatest populations of useful ericaceous plants, where the sunshine is never overbearingly strong and the soil is reassuringly acidic.
Bees foraging in such places find the dainty, bell flowers of Erica, Calluna and Vaccinium well worth visiting in due season, wild-heather honey being famous for its aromatic sweetness. However, in winter, the fruits of Vaccinium come into their own, providing a lifeline for non-hibernating rodents, berry-eating birds, foxes and hares. Vaccinium vitis-idaea (pictured, top left, top right) occurs across the Northern Hemisphere’s coldest regions, including the severely challenging arctic tundra, tolerating temperatures of –40˚C.
Best known here as cowberry, its numerous monikers include foxberry, partridgeberry, red whortleberry, wolfberry and lingonberry. Growing in low, dense mats via creeping shoots, cowberry’s commercial potential has given rise to