Index of Species Information
SPECIES: Vaccinium vitis-idaea
SPECIES: Vaccinium vitis-idaea
AUTHORSHIP AND CITATION :
Tirmenstein, D. 1991. Vaccinium vitis-idaea. 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/ .
17 September 2013: The Fire Case Study of Zasada and others' [123,124,125]
study was converted to a Research Project Summary.
SCS PLANT CODE :
COMMON NAMES :
northern mountain cranberry
The currently accepted scientific name of mountain cranberry is
Vaccinium vitis-idaea Linnaeus (Ericaceae) [6,106,107]. Vaccinium
vitis-idaea ssp. minus (Lodd.) Hulten is the only recognized subspecies
occurring in North America .
In some areas, mountain cranberry hybridizes with dwarf bilberry (V.
myrtillus) . A naturally occurring hybrid (V. X intermedium Ruthe.)
has been identified .
LIFE FORM :
FEDERAL LEGAL STATUS :
No special status
OTHER STATUS :
DISTRIBUTION AND OCCURRENCE
SPECIES: Vaccinium vitis-idaea
GENERAL DISTRIBUTION :
Mountain cranberry is a circumpolar, circumboreal species that occurs
throughout parts of North America, Eurasia, and Japan [101,106]. The
New World subspecies (ssp. minus) extends from northwestern Greenland
across the Canadian Arctic southward to New England . It grows
westward to the Great Lakes and British Columbia and reaches islands in
the Bering Sea [42,114]. In North America, mountain cranberry is
restricted to areas north of the glacial boundary . The subspecies
vitis-idaea occurs throughout northern Europe from Scandinavia to
northern Italy and the Caucasus, across northern Siberia and Japan
southward into northern China and Korea .
FRES10 White - red - jack pine
FRES11 Spruce - fir
FRES19 Aspen - birch
FRES23 Fir - spruce
FRES26 Lodgepole pine
AK CT ME MA MN NH VT WI AB BC
LB MB NB NF NT NS ON PE PQ SK
BLM PHYSIOGRAPHIC REGIONS :
KUCHLER PLANT ASSOCIATIONS :
K015 Western spruce - fir forest
K093 Great Lakes spruce - fir forest
K094 Conifer bog
K095 Great Lakes pine forest
K096 Northeastern spruce - fir forest
K106 Northern hardwoods
K107 Northern hardwoods - fir forest
K108 Northern hardwoods - spruce forest
SAF COVER TYPES :
1 Jack pine
5 Balsam fir
12 Black spruce
13 Black spruce - tamarack
17 Pin cherry
18 Paper birch
107 White spruce
201 White spruce
202 White spruce - paper birch
204 Black spruce
218 Lodgepole pine
251 White spruce - aspen
253 Black spruce - white spruce
254 Black spruce - paper birch
SRM (RANGELAND) COVER TYPES :
HABITAT TYPES AND PLANT COMMUNITIES :
Mountain cranberry grows as an understory dominant or codominant in a
variety of forest communities including many dominated by jack pine
(Pinus banksiana) and lodgepole pine (P. contorta). It also occurs as a
dominant or indicator in dwarf shrub and shrub tundra communities.
Common codominants include dwarf birch (Betula nana), alpine bearberry
(Arctostaphylos alpina), Labrador tea (Ledum spp.), feather moss
(Pleurozium spp.), willow (Salix spp.), sedges (Carex spp.), lichen
(Cladina spp.), and crowberry (Empetrum nigrum).
Mountain cranberry is listed as a dominant or indicator in the following
plant association, ecosystem association, habitat type, and community
Forest community types of west-central Alberta in relation to selected
environmental factors 
Field guide to forest ecosystems of west-central Alberta 
Vegetation types in northwestern Alaska and comparisons with
communities in other arctic regions 
Plant associates: Cloudberry (Rubus chamaemorus), Canada beadruby
(Maianthemum canadense), prickly rose (Rosa acicularis), paper birch (B.
papyrifera), sedge, mountain-laurel (Kalmia angustifolia), bearberry
(Arctostaphylos uva-ursi), crowberry, twinflower (Linnaea borealis),
willow, bog blueberry (Vaccinium uliginosum), fireweed (Epilobium
angustifolium), bluejoint reedgrass (Calamagrostis canadensis), bog
Labrador tea, and feather moss commonly occur with mountain cranberry in
white and black spruce and jack pine communities [7,22,26,38,48,120].
Willows, bog Labrador tea, prickly rose, crowberry, bog blueberry,
sedges, cottongrass (Eriophorum vaginatum), and cloudberry are common
associates in treeless sphagnum bogs, cottongrass muskeg, and dwarf
shrub marsh communities [84,111,114,120].
SPECIES: Vaccinium vitis-idaea
IMPORTANCE TO LIVESTOCK AND WILDLIFE :
Browse: Mountain cranberry browse is readily eaten by barren-ground
caribou, black bear, moose, arctic hare, and snowshoe hare [38,42]. In
parts of Alaska, it is an important if not key moose browse .
Utilization by moose is typically heaviest when available browse is
limited and when light snow accumulations allow the animals to reach the
plants easily . On the Kenai Peninsula, it may comprise up to 25
percent of winter moose diets. Moose may dig through 20 inches (50 cm)
of snow to feed on the foliage, but if winter snow depths are excessive,
the animals rarely expend the energy necessary to reach the plants .
Generally, moose eat only trace amounts of mountain cranberry during the
In some parts of Canada, mountain cranberry browse is a primary food of
barren-ground caribou . The evergreen leaves are an important item
in the winter diet . In the Mackenzie District of northwestern
Saskatchewan, leaves of mountain cranberry and bog blueberry (V.
uliginosum) accounted for 21.5 percent of the barren-ground caribou
winter diet but only 3.8 percent of the summer diet . However, in
some areas, caribou continue to feed heavily on mountain cranberry
browse throughout the summer .
In Newfoundland, snowshoe hares often consume large amounts of shoots
during the winter . Where snow depths prohibit winter use, hares
may feed on leaves made available by melting snows. Seasonal percent
composition of leaves of mountain cranberry and bog blueberry in the
diet of snowshoe hares in Newfoundland was as follows :
winter April May summer fall
0.3 17.4 9.3 6.6 10.9
Mountain cranberry browse is of little value to domestic livestock but
provides some winter browse for reindeer [23,73]. It is not eaten by
domestic sheep if more preferred forage is available .
Fruit: Berries of mountain cranberry are an important food source for
many species of birds and mammals. Many wildlife species feed on fruit
left on the ground from the previous year [38,55]. Berries are an
important spruce grouse food during spring, summer, and fall. Berries
persisting from the previous year are eaten from late spring through
early August. In interior Alaska, percent volume use of mountain
cranberry by spruce grouse was 37.6 in July and August, 40.1 in
September, and 17.3 in September .
In many areas, berries are an essential food source for birds migrating
northward in the spring [38,55]. The common raven, ring-necked
pheasant, rock ptarmigan, sea gulls, geese, grouse, partridges, and many
species of songbirds, such as the scarlet tanager, eastern bluebird, and
thrushes, readily consume mountain cranberry fruit [38,42,88]. Fruit of
Vacciniums are readily eaten by the northern mockingbird, rufous-sided
towhee, gray catbird, American robin, brown thrasher, ruffed grouse,
spruce grouse, whimbrel, herring gull, and Canada goose [72,105,106].
The red-backed vole eats large quantities of mountain cranberry fruit
during the fall. Berries are a primary winter food source as well; the
rodents burrow under snow to reach the persistent fruit . The red
fox also consumes large amounts of fruit during late fall .
Mountain cranberry fruit is an important black bear food in many areas
but is of particular importance in Alaska . Berries remain on the
plant over winter, and black bears begin feeding on berries during the
early spring as soon as the snow has melted [38,40]. Fruit again
assumes importance in black bear diets during the fall . Many other
mammals, including the polar bear, eastern chipmunk, and white-footed
mouse, also feed on the fruit of mountain cranberry [38,55]. Fruits of
many Vacciniums are readily eaten by species such as the red squirrel,
gray fox, skunks, and chipmunks [72,106].
Mountain cranberry browse is at least seasonally palatable to many
species of mammals including the barren-ground caribou, snowshoe and
arctic hares, and moose. Berries are readily eaten by a variety of
birds and mammals. Palatability of the fruit increases over winter
NUTRITIONAL VALUE :
Browse: Nutrient content of browse varies according to factors such as
soils, phenological development, and proximity to smelters [42,45,95].
Calcium, manganese, aluminum, silver, lead, and boron tend to accumulate
in plant tissue even at low soil levels . Food value peaks in
summer . In winter, acid-detergent, fiber, and lignin content
increase but levels of magnesium, zinc, manganese, calcium, potassium,
sodium, copper, and iron decline. Protein content remains relatively
constant throughout the year at 5 to 6 percent . Energy content has
been estimated at 509 kcal/100 g . Nutritional value of browse from
the Kenai Peninsula of Alaska was documented as follows :
Protein (%) 5.7 5.4
Ca (ppm) 4920.0 26.7
Mg (ppm) 1328.0 4.6
K (ppm) 438.3 29.8
Na (ppm) 55.0 22.8
Cu (ppm) 5.8 0.2
Fe (ppm) 51.3 3.2
Mg (ppm) 17.6 1.9
Zn (ppm) 8.3 0.3
Fruit: Berries are high in tannins and anthocyanins. The caloric
content is moderate .
COVER VALUE :
VALUE FOR REHABILITATION OF DISTURBED SITES :
Potential rehabilitation value of mountain cranberry has not been well
documented. Plants are able to survive on extremely harsh sites, and
some rehabilitation potential is possible. On the Arctic Coastal Plain,
sprouts have been observed on and under debris left from oil exploration
Mountain cranberry can be readily propagated from seed and stem or
rhizome cuttings [32,42]. Meristem propagation techniques have also
been described . Stem cuttings root easily if planted in the
spring or early fall but exhibit slow rhizome development and poor
subsequent vegetative spread . Clumps of wild mountain cranberry
can be divided and transplanted onto disturbed sites . Survival of
these transplants is variable, ranging from 30 to 90 percent .
Propagation techniques have been examined in detail [25,32,42,61,63].
OTHER USES AND VALUES :
Mountain cranberry fruit can be eaten raw or cooked to make a tart sauce
[6,99]. Berries are used to make preserves, jam, jelly, candy, syrup,
pickles, juice beverages, and wine [42,47]. Fruit can be added to rose
hips to make a tasty jelly , or added to various ice cream products
. In some areas, berry-picking is an important recreational
activity . Fruit is widely processed and marketed in Japan and
Europe  and is harvested commercially in parts of Alaska,
Scandinavia, Russia, and Canada [42,43]. Considerable amounts of
fruit are imported into the United States annually . Much of this
imported fruit is consumed by peoples of Scandinavian descent who use
the so-called "Swedish lingenberry" in traditional dishes . Mountain
cranberry has the potential for more extensive commercial development
[15,37,74]. Some native stands could be managed with a minimum of
cultivation, as are those of low sweet blueberry . The
feasibility of expanded commercial operations is currently being tested
in parts of North America .
Many Native Americans and indigenous peoples of Eurasia used the leaves
and fruit of mountain cranberry as food or medicine [57,106].
Preparations made from the leaves were used to treat bladder problems,
gout, and rheumatism . Medicinal fruit jellies were used to treat
sore throats and colds . The Slave, Athabaska, Cree, and Inuit
people ate the fruit fresh and preserved them for winter use [38,106].
Berries were often boiled and mixed with oil to facilitate storage for
long periods .
Arbutin, which is obtained from the leaves and stems, is used by the
pharmaceutical industry in preparations used to treat intestinal
disorders. Mountain cranberry forms a dense, attractive mat and has
been planted as an ornamental ground cover . It was first
cultivated in 1789 . Mountain cranberry has shown promise for use
in developing hardy fruit-producing cultivars .
OTHER MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS :
Fruit production: Fruit production in mountain cranberry varies widely
according to geographic location, site factors such as shade and soil,
annual weather conditions, and the genetic make-up of the individual
clone [62,63,71,78,81]. Poor fruit production may be due to a lack of
pollinators, cold damp weather during flowering, late spring frosts, or
hail [42,43,57]. Plants growing in the shade rarely produce fruit or
flowers, but plants growing in full sun commonly bear an abundance of
fruit . Some geographic variation in this pattern has been noted.
On dry sunny sites in Alberta, flower bud production may be greatest in
partial shade of aspen (Populus tremuloides) . In the cool, rainy
climates of the Maritime Provinces, flower bud production is typically
best on exposed sites . Kuchko  reported poor yields beneath
forest canopy, although yields were often good in adjacent gaps created
by timber harvest.
Fruit yields are generally greater on peat than on mineral soil .
Under experimental conditions, plants produced 82 kg/100 m sq on peat
but produced only 14 kg/100 m sq on mineral soil . Temperatures of
30 degrees F (-1.5 degrees C) can kill 50 percent of all flowers, and
exposure to 26 degrees F (-3.5 degrees C) can destroy 50 percent of the
buds and unripe fruit . In harsh arctic environments, only plants
in protected areas, such as on south-facing rock crevices, flower .
Maximum yields in cultivated stands may reach 9,140 pounds per acre
(8,150 kg/ha) . Elsewhere, yields may range from 19.5 pounds per
acre (17.4 kg/ha)  in Swedish peatlands to 560 pounds per acre (500
kg/ha) in some Finnish forests . Yields are generally highest where
mountain cranberry cover is greatest and competitors are few .
Details on fruit yields are available [32,57,81].
Cultivation: Mountain cranberry generally responds more favorably to
fertilizer and irrigation than do other members of the genus .
However, the application of fertilizer does not always increase fruit
yields. Comparatively little fertilizer is required for good growth and
development ; if too much is added, vegetative growth may be
promoted at the expense of fruit production . Where weeds are a
problem, fertilizer may increase competitors at the expense of mountain
cranberry . Mulches such as milled peat can increase fruit
production in some instances . The effects of mulch, fertilizers,
and irrigation have been examined in detail [32,42,46,53,62,63].
Fruit yields may be increased by various means. Herbicides have been
used to reduce weeds in commercially managed fields of mountain
cranberry [37,63]. Honeybees can be used to supplement native bee
populations when pollinator availability is low . Fruit is
generally harvested by hand . Small comb-sieves or rakes are
commonly used [38,101].
Chemical response: Mountain cranberry is susceptible to herbicides such
as 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T . These herbicides cause browning of stems and
leaves and at high concentrations can kill the plants . The effect
of herbicides has been documented [8,38].
Damage/disease: Plants can be killed by exposure to cold temperatures
in the absence of a protective snow cover . Unacclimated plants can
be killed by exposure to temperatures of 28 degrees F (-2.5 degrees C)
or below;, acclimated plants can survive exposure to temperatures as low
as 8 degrees F (-22 degrees C) . Mountain cranberry is susceptible
to several diseases and insect infestations [38,42].
Environmental considerations: Mountain cranberry growing near smelters
can accumulate high concentrations of heavy metals . Plants growing
near a zinc smelter in Poland exhibited reduced leaf size and other
types of damage . Mountain cranberry can also accumulate a wide
range of radionuclides such as radium-226, lead-210, and uranium .
Tests indicate that summer oil spills are more damaging to mountain
cranberry than those that occur in February . Predisturbance cover
of 48 percent was reduced to 0 by a summer crude oil spill. A
low-intensity winter spill reduced cover to 12 percent while a
high-intensity oil winter spill reduced cover to 6 percent .
Recovery of mountain cranberry can occur 10 to 15 years after an oil
Timber harvest: After some types of logging treatments in a mature
white spruce (Picea glauca) forest in Alaska, cover and frequency of
mountain cranberry increased fairly rapidly .
Biomass: Mountain cranberry biomass is strongly correlated with canopy
cover [44,77]. Maximum dry matter accumulation occurs in full sunlight
. Holloway  observed that 80 percent of the total biomass of
mature plants was underground. Biomass has been examined in detail
BOTANICAL AND ECOLOGICAL CHARACTERISTICS
SPECIES: Vaccinium vitis-idaea
GENERAL BOTANICAL CHARACTERISTICS :
Mountain cranberry is a low, creeping, evergreen subshrub that commonly
reaches 2 to 6 inches (5-15 cm) in height [4,90,114]. It typically
grows in dense rhizomatous colonies and frequently forms mats .
Stems are slender and trailing [38,114]; stem
morphology has been
examined in detail . The root system is variable . Plants have
a network of fine, shallow, fibrous roots, and may possess a taproot
[32,38]. The dichotomously branched rhizomes possess numerous hairlike
roots . Maximum rooting depths of 2 to 11 inches (5-28 cm) have
been reported [42,100].
The thick, simple, leaves are obovate, oblong, or elliptic [38,90]. The
green leaves turn purplish in fall .
Flowers occur on terminal racemes singly or in groups of up to 15 .
Floral morphology has been examined in detail . Fruit is a bright
to dark red, globular berry approximately 0.2 to 0.4 inch (6-10 mm) in
diameter [4,55,106,114]. The four-celled berries are acidic to sour or
bitter [6,90,106]. Yellow, short-beaked seeds average 0.04 inch (1 mm)
in length [42,106].
RAUNKIAER LIFE FORM :
REGENERATION PROCESSES :
Mountain cranberry reproduces through seed and by vegetative means .
Seed: In many areas, seedlings first bear fruit at 3 or 4 years of age
[32,63]. However, British studies suggest that few flowers are produced
until plants reach 5 to 10 years of age . Flowers are pollinated by
bumblebees and bee flies (syrphid flies) [38,42]. Plants may be self-
or cross-pollinated, but fruit set is much greater after
cross-pollination . Berries are often produced in abundance. In
parts of North America, berries average 3 to 15 seeds per berry .
Seeds are dispersed by birds and mammals .
Germination: Seed can germinate on bare ground, but only if conditions
are favorable . Fresh seed generally exhibits best germination
[37,38]. Germination declined from an average of 76.5 percent for seed
extracted from fresh fruit and then planted immediately to less than 10
percent for seed stored 12 to 16 months before planting . In
laboratory tests, good germination was reported after stratification at
32 to 41 degrees F (0-5 degrees C) for up to 5 months [42,61]. Seeds
typically germinate within 3 weeks after exposure to temperatures of -7
to -4 degrees F (20-25 degrees C) in light or dark [32,42]. Germination
characteristics of mountain cranberry have been examined in detail
Seedling establishment: Seedlings are rarely observed in the field
[42,62,75,102]. In Estonia, seedlings are generally observed only in
protected areas such as near tree stumps, fallen logs, or stones .
Some seedlings do develop in favorable years in parts of Nova Scotia and
Seed banking: Seed of mountain cranberry has been detected in soil
samples [75,106], but seed banking potentials for this species are
unknown. In black spruce (Picea mariana)-jack pine forests of the
Northwest Territories, seeds of mountain cranberry and bog blueberry
were found in 71 percent of the soil samples tested . Studies near
the Great Slave Lake revealed mountain cranberry and bog blueberry seed
in 65 percent of the cores sampled. Seed densities averaged 3.3 per
1,000 cc, but only 21 percent were viable. A second study revealed 4.8
seeds per 1,000 cc, but none of the seeds were viable .
Vegetative regeneration: Vegetative regeneration is of primary
importance in the mountain cranberry . Plants commonly expand
through horizontal rhizomes . Rhizomes may sprout singly or in
groups of 1 or 2 per square meter . Large, older clones may be
separated into numerous daughter clones by disturbances such as frost,
fire, or burrowing mammals [38,88]. Rhizome length, depth, and the
location of shoots on the rhizomes are greatly influenced by soil and
other site characteristics . Rhizome depth is inversely related to
the thickness of soil organic layers . Rhizomes grow well in peat
but can also penetrate to mineral soil. In Britain, rhizomes are
generally confined to the humus layer  and are estimated to average
4 to 8 inches (10-20 cm) deep . Smith  reported that rhizome
depth in Alberta varied from 8 to 11 inches (19-28 cm). He found that
22.1 percent of the shoots were located terminally and 77.9 percent
arose at midrhizome locations. Rhizome characteristics as related to
various site characteristics have been examined in detail.
The trailing or creeping stems of mountain cranberry also root at the
nodes [38,114]. This mode of regeneration may be important on some
harsh, subarctic sites .
SITE CHARACTERISTICS :
Mountain cranberry is widely distributed in northern temperate forests
and in many arctic and alpine communities [38,60,114]. It commonly
grows on exposed sites, such as windswept crags, bare headlands, rocky
ledges, scree, sea cliffs, hilly rocky barrens, and mountain summits
[21,38,81,88,91]. At the southern edge of its range, mountain cranberry
occurs primarily in bogs, but in the north it grows on both wet and dry
sites . Mountain cranberry occurs on high moors, heath barrens,
sand dunes, and in peatlands, forest swamps, and bogs [38,41,114]. In
mature forests, plants often grow on top of decaying tree stumps .
Climate: Mountain cranberry grows under a variety of climatic regimes.
In much of Canada, it occurs in areas characterized by short cool
summers and long cold winters . In black spruce-white spruce-jack
pine forests of northern Canada, its distribution may be correlated with
arctic air masses. However, in harsh rockfield and tussock communities
of the far North, it may be related to the influence of moist Pacific
air masses [38,60]. In taiga communities of Alaska, winters are long
and cold, but summers are short and hot . Mean annual
precipitation is 8 inches (21 cm), and average annual temperature is 20
degrees F (-6.7 degrees C) . In parts of the Northwest Territories,
annual precipitation averages 12 inches (30.4 cm) .
Soils: Mountain cranberry grows on shallow, poorly developed mineral
soil as well as on drained peat [51,88]. Soils are often of low
fertility and have little calcium but may be high in decaying organics
[42,101]. Mountain cranberry commonly grows on acidic sandy loams or
loamy clays [42,57]. Holloway and others  reported poorest
vegetative growth on sandy soils. Soil pH ranges from 2.7 to 8.2, but
best growth has been reported at 4.0 to 4.9 [38,42,49]. Soils are often
characterized by low base saturation and low lime content . Soils
may be derived from a variety of parent materials, including sandstone,
gneiss, granite, and glacial outwash sands and gravel .
Elevation: In New England, mountain cranberry is generally restricted
to higher mountains . In the Northwest Territories, plants often
occur at lower elevations (to 4,950 feet [1,500 m]) . Generalized
elevational ranges by geographic location are as follows:
Location Elevation Authority
Adirondacks up to 5,300 ft (1,615 m) Keeler 1969
e Canada sea level to 4,250 ft (0-1,290 m) Hall and Shay 1981
AB to 7,400 ft (2,250 m) Hall and Shay 1981
Yukon 6,900 to 7,900 ft (2,100-2,400 m) Hall and Shay 1981
SUCCESSIONAL STATUS :
Mountain cranberry is noted for its wide ecological amplitude . It
is not generally considered a pioneer species but does occur in early
seral stages in some communities [38,65]. Mountain cranberry persists
indefinitely, unless shaded out by conifers, and assumes a climax role
in various rockfield communities of the far North .
Mountain cranberry commonly invades tundra bog communities dominated by
species such as alpine sweetgrass (Hierochloe alpina), lichens
(Alectoria ochroleuca, A. nitidula), and woodrush (Luzula confusa) from
adjacent summit rockfields. Mountain cranberry also invades senescent
cottongrass tussock communities and areas of frost activity after the
establishment of initial pioneers. However, on some sites, seral mat
communities made up of mountain cranberry, crowberry, and lichens
eventually give rise to white spruce stands. In barrens of
Newfoundland, mountain cranberry grows as a seral species which is
displaced by black spruce and balsam fir . It also occurs in some
early seral communities dominated by paper birch .
Black spruce: Mountain cranberry is important in stable climax black
spruce communities but also dominates many seral stages [34,65,80].
Stands are initially colonized by bryophytes and herbaceous species such
as fireweed and willow [7,27]. Mountain cranberry generally reaches
stable levels within 25 years after fire or other disturbances .
However, maximum cover and frequency were attained at 144 years in
certain black spruce/mountain cranberry communities . In black
spruce stands in interior Alaska, mountain cranberry is present within 5
to 30 years after disturbance and persists for many years. It is common
in stands 200 years old or older and represents the most abundant low
shrub in tree-dominated stages . In black spruce stands of the
Northwest Territories, mountain cranberry remains abundant in 200- to
300-year-old stands despite the decline of most vascular plants .
Chapin and others  reported that mountain cranberry becomes more
prominent as succession progresses from immature black spruce to muskeg.
White spruce: Mountain cranberry occurs in many climax white spruce
forests on uplands of interior Alaska . It is present during the
moss-herb stage which occurs 1 to 5 years after fire [27,34]. Mountain
cranberry peaks and declines after the dense tree stage, which occurs
from 15 to 40-46 years or longer after fire, but remains present in
later stages . Dyrness and others  reported that in interior
Alaska, mountain cranberry was common in 150-year-old white spruce
Jack pine: In jack pine-lichen woodlands of the northern Canada,
mountain cranberry is an early colonizer on recently burned sites .
It persists after "the cessation of major successional changes" at 25 to
45 years  and remains common in stands up to 280 years of age .
Tundra communities: In sedge-tussock tundra and shrub tundra
communities of Alaska's Seward Peninsula, bryophytes initially
reestablished burned sites. Bryophytes often reach maximum cover within
2 to 4 years after fire, but the recovery of shrubs such as mountain
cranberry is often much slower. In shrub-tundra communities, mountain
cranberry may not recover to prefire levels even by 5 to 6 years after
fire or other disturbance [84,85].
SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT :
In Alaska, vegetative buds began growth during the first week of June
and underwent rapid elongation throughout June. The growth rate of
terminal vegetative buds decreased by July 1. Leaf expansion began
during the last week of May and the first week of June; all leaves had
expanded within 1 month . Karlsson  observed that old leaves
became photosynthetically active approximately 2 weeks after bud break.
Near Mt. Washington, New Hampshire, and in parts of Nova Scotia,
vegetative growth began in late June [38,42]. In Britain and perhaps
elsewhere, leaf expansion can begin as early as March, although it
usually occurs from mid-May to mid-June. Shoot growth generally ends in
mid-July. Leaves may persist for up to 3 years. However, some old
leaves may be shed by August of the second year . Plants become
dormant by fall .
Flowers develop from buds initiated the previous year . In
interior Alaska, reproductive bud growth begins in mid-May . In
parts of Britain, two periods of flowering (spring and summer) have been
observed at certain low-elevation sites . Flowering may last 9 to
18 days  or as long as 19 to 27 days. Fruit ripens approximately 78
to 84 days after full bloom .
Phenological development may be related to the timing of snowmelt .
In interior Alaska, plants were in maximum full bloom approximately 6
weeks after snowmelt and exhibited first visible signs of growth 2 weeks
after snowmelt. Unusually cool temperatures can delay phenological
development. Roots and rhizomes undergo two periods of active growth
annually in early spring and fall .
SPECIES: Vaccinium vitis-idaea
FIRE ECOLOGY OR ADAPTATIONS :
Mountain cranberry occurs in a variety of communities across a wide
climatic range. It persists under a regime of relatively frequent fires
but also grows in areas that rarely burn. Black spruce communities are
dependent on frequent fires, and most associated species, including
mountain cranberry, are well adapted to fire . Fires in black
spruce communities of Alaska and northern Canada are commonly lightning
caused and tend to be large [68,110]. Fire frequencies average 80 to
200 years [96,110]. In moister black spruce/mountain cranberry
communities in eastern Canada, fires may occur at 500-year intervals
. Mountain cranberry remains important in jack pine stands that
burn at 20- to 40-year intervals and in Swedish pine forests that burn
every 40 years [13,30].
Fire may be an important factor in treeline communities of the North.
In Siberia, past extensive fires may have destroyed forest communities.
Trees may have been unable to reestablish on these harsh sites under the
current climatic regimes. Low-shrub-dominated tundra communities
composed of species such as mountain cranberry may have eventually
replaced these forest stands . Fire intervals in shrub subzones of
forest-tundra communities have been estimated at 1,460 years .
Mountain cranberry continues to be abundant on these infrequently burned
In many forest communities, mountain cranberry requires fire for its
maintenance . Increases in cover and vigor after fire are commonly
observed . Mountain cranberry generally reestablishes a site through
sprouting from rhizomes and aerial stems. Very limited reestablishment
may occur on exceptional sites in good years by seed transported from
POSTFIRE REGENERATION STRATEGY :
Small shrub, adventitious-bud root crown
Rhizomatous shrub, rhizome in soil
Initial-offsite colonizer (off-site, initial community)
FIRE MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS :
Postfire biomass: Postfire reduction in mountain cranberry production
was as follows after a fire in an arctic tussock community :
mean annual production (g/m sq)
site 1 0.1 5.8
site 2 0.6 7.5
site 3 0.6 1.8
site 4 4.0 9.5
Biomass: Biomass following a late June wildfire in interior Alaska was
measured at 0.04 grams per square meter during postfire year 1, 0.08
grams per square meter during postfire year 2, and 1.4 grams per square
meter during postfire year, compared to a control measurement of 5.1
grams per square meter .
Fuels and flammability: Engelmark  reported that Vacciniums are
highly flammable due to specific chemical properties. In northern
Sweden, species such as mountain cranberry can serve as ignition points
and as a continuous fuel mat for surface fires. In many black spruce
stands of Alaska and northern Canada, an open, highly flammable,
ericaceous shrub layer can carry a fire . However, Quintilio and
others  observed that an extensive mat of mountain cranberry and
alpine bearberry served as an effective fire barrier in a jack pine
stand near Darwin Lake, Alberta. Fire seldom penetrated more than a few
centimeters into the vegetative mat. The extensive ground mat
noticeably reduced the fire spread rate and coverage .
SPECIES: Vaccinium vitis-idaea
IMMEDIATE FIRE EFFECT ON PLANT :
Underground regenerative structures of mountain cranberry generally survive
light fires [102,115]. Plants often survive even when aerial portions are
consumed by fire . However, plants may be killed by moderate to heavy,
duff-consuming fires . Survival is related to many factors including
soil moisture levels, season of burn, fire severity and intensity, and rhizome
Rhizomes can sometimes survive soil surface temperatures of 820 degrees
F (438 degrees C) . In arctic tussock communities, plants often
survive severe fires which remove all aboveground material . The
heat-sensitive seeds of mountain cranberry are usually destroyed by fire
DISCUSSION AND QUALIFICATION OF FIRE EFFECT :
PLANT RESPONSE TO FIRE :
Mountain cranberry commonly sprouts from rhizomes or buds located on
surviving portions of aerial stems after fire damages or consumes
aboveground material [115,116]. Sprouting from stumps, or "rootstocks"
has also been reported [13,65]. Reestablishment through seed is
extremely rare . Surviving portions of the aerial stems sprout
within a short time, but rhizome sprouting may be delayed until the
following year .
The speed of reestablishment varies according to the season of burn,
site characteristics, and fire intensity and severity. Reestablishment
is generally rapid after light fires ; plants are often common on
lightly burned sites . Regeneration may be slow after hot fires
that damage or destroy underground regenerative structures [27,102,111].
In northern spruce communities, intense, stand-destroying, late summer
fires which consume the organic layer  can be particularly damaging
to mountain cranberry .
On some sites, plants may sprout within months after a light burn and
regain prefire cover within a few years . Mountain cranberry
generally appears within the first 6 years after fire in black
spruce-lichen, jack pine-lichen, and white spruce-birch communities
. Residual survivors were observed at the end of the fifth growing
season in black spruce communities of southeastern Manitoba . In a
severely burned black spruce community of interior Alaska, it became
abundant within 5 years after fire but set little fruit . Viereck
 observed slow recovery after fire in a black spruce/feather moss-
lichen community of interior Alaska. Recovery was as follows:
percent cover (1971 fire)
unburned 1972 1975 1980
18 1 1 7
Mountain cranberry was present within 1 to 5 years after fire in white
spruce communities of Alaska . Mountain cranberry is a common early
colonizer in jack pine communities, although reestablishment generally
takes at least several years . In North America, postfire recovery
may be more rapid in moister, eastern boreal forests .
Reestablishment of mountain cranberry is often slow in tundra
communities . Plants attained prefire coverage by the end of two
full growing seasons in arctic tussock communities . In
northwestern Alaska, production was still significantly lower on sites
burned 13 years earlier than on unburned sites .
DISCUSSION AND QUALIFICATION OF PLANT RESPONSE :
Fire severity: Recovery is typically much more rapid after light fires.
Postfire recovery in Alaska has been documented as follows :
1971 1972 1973 1974 control
heavy burn .05 .50 .30 .90 ----
light burn 3.45 3.55 1.65 6.10 20.35
heavy burn 0 .15 .20 .35 6.90
In sedge-shrub tundra on the Seward Peninsula of Alaska, little or no
sprouting was observed within 2 years on severely burned sites where
mountain cranberry was a prefire dominant. After light to moderate
severity burns in sedge-tussock communities, mountain cranberry
sprouted and recovered relatively quickly. Shoot densities increased
significantly on two of the four sites, from 43 shoots per meter square
to 126 per meter square and from 25 per meter square to 43 per meter
square. However, sprouts were generally located on the surface or sides
of tussocks, suggesting that they escaped burning within the tussock
Recovery of mountain cranberry may be relatively slow in many types of
tundra shrub communities. Recovery of mountain cranberry by tundra
community was as follows :
sedge tussock-shrub tundra (burned 1977)
Frequency (no. of plots)* Cover (%)
1973 1978 1979 1973 1978 1979
site 2 10 10 10 6.9 0.8 1.3
site 3 -- 10 10 --- 0.5 0.5
site 4 -- 10 10 --- 0.5 0.5
site 5 -- 9 9 --- 0.5 0.5
*Number of 1-m2 plots in which species occurs (ten plots sampled)
birch and ericaceous shrub tundra (burned 1977)
1973 1978 1979
Cover Cover Cover
_ _ _
Freq.* (x %) Freq.* (x %) Freq.* (x %)
nonfrost boils 10 7 0 0 0 0
frost boils 10 4 0 0 0 0
*Number of 1-m2 quadrats in which species occurs/no. of quadrats on that
site X 10
sedge-shrub tundra (burned 1977)
Prefire (1973) 1 yr after (1978) 2 yrs after (1979)
Freq.* Cover** Freq.* Cover** Dens.*** Freq.* Cover** Dens.***
site 8 10 2.8 3 0.2 2 4 0.2 3
site 9 10 15.5 6 0.3 2 7 0.3 5
* Number of 1-m2 plots in which the species occurs (ten plots sampled)
** Mean percent cover averaged over 10 plots
Postfire frequencies of mountain cranberry 1 year after a summer fire in
sedge tussock-shrub communities of the Seward Peninsula of Alaska were
greatly reduced :
sampling date late May 1978 mid-June 1978
freq. % freq. %
burned 0.23 0.05
unburned 1.00 1.00
See the Research Project Summary of Wright's  study for further information.
For information on prescribed fire and postfire responses of many plant
species, including mountain cranberry, see these Research Project Summaries:
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