Index of Species Information
SPECIES: Empetrum nigrum
SPECIES: Empetrum nigrum
AUTHORSHIP AND CITATION :
Matthews, Robin F. 1992. Empetrum nigrum. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online].
U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service,
Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer).
Available: http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/ .
Empetrum hermaphroditum (Lange) Hagerup
SCS PLANT CODE :
COMMON NAMES :
The currently accepted scientific name of black crowberry is Empetrum
nigrum L. [2,13,18]. There are two recognized subspecies, both having a
circumpolar distribution: Empetrum nigrum subsp. nigrum with unisexual
flowers and Empetrum nigrum subsp. hermaphroditum with bisexual flowers
LIFE FORM :
FEDERAL LEGAL STATUS :
No special status
OTHER STATUS :
DISTRIBUTION AND OCCURRENCE
SPECIES: Empetrum nigrum
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION :
Black crowberry is distributed throughout Alaska, across the Yukon
Territory and Canada to Labrador, Newfoundland, and Greenland. It
occurs south through New England and the Great Lakes states, as well as
along the Pacific Coast to northern California. Black crowberry also
has a wide distribution throughout Europe [38,42,47].
FRES10 White - red - jack pine
FRES11 Spruce - fir
FRES19 Aspen - birch
FRES23 Fir - spruce
FRES24 Hemlock - Sitka spruce
FRES26 Lodgepole pine
AK CA ME MA MI MN NH NY OR VT
WA WI AB BC LB MB NB NF NT NS
ON PQ SK YT
BLM PHYSIOGRAPHIC REGIONS :
1 Northern Pacific Border
2 Cascade Mountains
KUCHLER PLANT ASSOCIATIONS :
K001 Spruce - cedar - hemlock forest
K002 Cedar - hemlock - Douglas-fir forest
K003 Silver fir - Douglas-fir forest
K004 Fir - hemlock forest
K008 Lodgepole pine - subalpine forest
K012 Douglas-fir forest
K015 Western spruce - fir forest
K052 Alpine meadows and barren
K093 Great Lakes spruce - fir forest
K094 Conifer bog
K095 Great Lakes pine forest
K096 Northeastern spruce - fir forest
K108 Northern hardwoods - spruce forest
SAF COVER TYPES :
1 Jack pine
5 Balsam fir
12 Black spruce
13 Black spruce - tamarack
18 Paper birch
107 White spruce
201 White spruce
202 White spruce - paper birch
204 Black spruce
205 Mountain hemlock
206 Engelmann spruce - subalpine fir
218 Lodgepole pine
223 Sitka spruce
224 Western hemlock
225 Western hemlock - Sitka spruce
226 Coastal true fir - hemlock
227 Western redcedar - western hemlock
228 Western redcedar
229 Pacific Douglas-fir
230 Douglas-fir - western hemlock
253 Black spruce - white spruce
254 Black spruce - paper birch
SRM (RANGELAND) COVER TYPES :
HABITAT TYPES AND PLANT COMMUNITIES :
Black crowberry is a dominant or codominant in a variety of different
habitats. It may occur as an understory dominant in open conifer
woodlands with black spruce (Picea mariana), white spruce (P. glauca),
or shore pine (Pinus contorta var. contorta). Black crowberry can
dominate shrub-types with dwarf birch (Betula nana), willow (Salix
spp.), and ericaceous shrubs in bogs or muskegs and on open, moist
Other commonly associated species include: paper birch (Betula
papyrifera), quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides), Alaska cedar
(Chamaecyparis nootkatensis), bog birch (Betula glandulosa), Labrador
tea (Ledum glandulosum and L. groenlandicum), various Vaccinium and
Carex species, feathermosses (Hylocomium spp. and Pleurozium spp.),
lichens (Cladonia spp. and Cladina spp.), and sphagnum mosses.
Published classification schemes listing black crowberry as a major
component of plant associations (pas), community types (cts), or
vegetation types (vts) are as follows:
AREA CLASSIFICATION AUTHORITY
AK gen. veg. pas Viereck & Dyrness 1980
Kenai Peninsula, AK vts Reynolds 1990
Canadian Rocky Mtns. old growth cts Achuff 1989
NF peatland pas Pollett 1972
sw YT cts Douglas 1974
SPECIES: Empetrum nigrum
IMPORTANCE TO LIVESTOCK AND WILDLIFE :
Black crowberry fruits are utilized as fall and winter forage by over 40
species of songbirds, waterfowl, and upland game birds [27,28,44,47].
The berries are especially important to grouse and ptarmigan [10,27,47].
Black crowberry seeds are a major component of the red-backed vole's
fall diet .
Big game animals that browse black crowberry foliage include reindeer,
caribou, and bear [4,17,41]. Bear also eat the berries, so black
crowberry utilization by bear increases in summer as fruits become ripe.
Occurrence of black crowberry fruits in bear scat samples increased from
5.9 percent in early spring to 12.9 percent by late summer .
NUTRITIONAL VALUE :
Black crowberry in barren-ground caribou forage areas consists of 6.27
percent protein and releases energy in the amount of 5.51 kilocalories
per gram 
Digestibility of black crowberry has been classified as low .
COVER VALUE :
Dense mats of black crowberry probably provide cover for small rodents
VALUE FOR REHABILITATION OF DISTURBED SITES :
Black crowberry has been broadly successful at naturally colonizing
borrow pits in the tundra regions of northwestern Canada, and may be of
use in managed reclamation projects . Black crowberry has followed
cottongrass (Eriophorum spissum) in the colonization of mined peatlands,
but only after decades have elapsed . Dense black crowberry mats
catch blowing soils in areas of high wind exposure, and its interlocking
roots may help stabilize the steep, rocky slopes it often inhabits.
Black crowberry could not be established by seed on test plots in
simulated pipeline trenches near Fort Norman, Northwest Territories
OTHER USES AND VALUES :
Black crowberry fruits are used, but usually mixed with other berries,
in pies or jellies. In the winter, Native Americans gather the
persistant berries buried beneath the snow [19,47].
OTHER MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS :
Black crowberry can be grown from stem cuttings and has been used as
ground cover in rough, low areas in interior Alaska .
Black crowberry showed no signs of recovery 2 years after clearcutting
and subsequent burning near Fairbanks, Alaska . Three years after
defoliation, black crowberry in barren-ground caribou forage areas had
not recovered .
BOTANICAL AND ECOLOGICAL CHARACTERISTICS
SPECIES: Empetrum nigrum
GENERAL BOTANICAL CHARACTERISTICS :
Black crowberry is a low, creeping evergreen shrub that generally
reaches 6 inches (15 cm) in height and often forms dense mats. The
leaves are linear to elliptic, and the lower surface is grooved to
reduce evapotranspiration in harsh climates. Black crowberry has
inconspicuous purple flowers [2,13,47,49].
Young black crowberry plants have a strong primary root, but as the
plants age, a shallow root system with many lateral roots develops .
RAUNKIAER LIFE FORM :
REGENERATION PROCESSES :
Sexual reproduction: Black crowberry is classified as polygamous,
dioecious, or monoecious. The dark-blue to black fruit is a drupe
containing six to nine nutlets [2,13,18]. Seeds are dispersed by birds
and animals . Some seeds may become established under the parent,
but seedling mortality is generally high . Black crowberry seeds
have been found buried beneath the soil, although only a small percent
of the seeds are actually viable [20,32]. Seeds were found in 71
percent of soil cores taken from plots near Great Slave Lake, Northwest
Vegetative reproduction: Sprouting from underground or basal portions
is the main form of reproduction of black crowberry [5,20,39]. In
addition, adventitious roots form where procumbent branches come in
contact with the ground .
SITE CHARACTERISTICS :
Black crowberry is found from sea level to alpine zones. It occurs in a
wide variety of habitats including sphagnum bogs or muskegs, open
tundra, rockfields, conifer forests, coastal bluffs, and exposed sea
cliffs [3,38,47,49]. Black crowberry is tolerant of a wide range of
soil moisture conditions, but is intolerant of prolonged water logging,
and on wet sites it is found in better drained areas . Black
crowberry is adapted to harsh climates and it often inhabits sites
exposed to wind, fog, and salt aerosals. Site characteristics influence
black crowberry morphology: on sites with high wind exposure, black
crowberry is branched and prostrate; on wet sites it is sparsely
branched and has long annual growth increments; on dry sites it has
branching shoots and is bushy .
Black crowberry is found in sandy to rocky soils, glacial till, and
alluvial deposits [8,42]. Soil pH ranges from 2.5 to 7.7 . Black
crowberry establishes itself on mineral soils and stagnant surfaces that
are nutrient enriched  but is also classified as an indicator of
nitrogen-poor soils .
SUCCESSIONAL STATUS :
Black crowberry is a pioneer on sandy blowouts, dry, lichen-covered
depressions on eskers , and in avalanche areas . However, it is
more often associated with late seral or climax communities,
particularily white or black spruce types [8,24,45]. Black crowberry is
common and abundant in old forests that have had no recent fires .
SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT :
Flowering occurs in spring in areas of early snowmelt and continues
through July. Fruits mature from August to late fall and persist
through the winter under snow cover [18,32,42,47].
SPECIES: Empetrum nigrum
FIRE ECOLOGY OR ADAPTATIONS :
Black crowberry generally occurs in communities with long fire intervals
or in communities that lack the dry fuel to sustain a fire [7,24,45].
Low growth form and small stems make black crowberry liable to top-kill
by fire. Belowground parts are also very susceptible to fire damage
because most of them are located near the soil surface [14,35].
Postfire seedlings may arise from seed banks but are not a regular
occurrence . Black crowberry can regenerate vegetatively following
fire [5,20,39], but this process is slow. Normal or prefire densities
may not be reached for 20 to 30 years .
POSTFIRE REGENERATION STRATEGY :
survivor species; on-site surviving root crown or caudex
off-site colonizer; seed carried by animals or water; postfire yr 1&2
FIRE MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS :
SPECIES: Empetrum nigrum
IMMEDIATE FIRE EFFECT ON PLANT :
Fire top-kills black crowberry; moderate or severe fires also readily
kill underground parts close to the soil surface [14,35].
DISCUSSION AND QUALIFICATION OF FIRE EFFECT :
PLANT RESPONSE TO FIRE :
Black crowberry is slow to recover following fire [5,48,50]. In
Labrador, black crowberry decreased significantly in frequency and
abundance following fire. Preburn frequency was 61 percent, while
postburn frequency was 0 percent after 5 years . It also showed
little or no recovery in 2- or 7 year-old burns in the Seward Peninsula,
Alaska . In the Wickersham Dome Fire near Fairbanks, Alaska, black
crowberry in black spruce stands responded differently in lightly and
heavily burned areas. In the lightly burned sites, percent cover was
1.4, 1.1, 0.9, and 1.25 in postfire years 1, 2, 3, and 4, respectively.
However, in the heavily burned sites, black crowberry cover was 0
percent in the 4 years immediately following the fire .
DISCUSSION AND QUALIFICATION OF PLANT RESPONSE :
For information on prescribed fire and postfire responses of many plant
species, including black crowberry, see this Research Project Summary:
SPECIES: Empetrum nigrum
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