Autumn berries

Ben Osborne

Berries are abundant at this time of the year but we are lucky to have several more unusual species in Shropshire.

The importance of being a berry

As summer turns to autumn, berries are brightening up hedgerows and landscapes across Shropshire, providing food for people and wildlife! They play an essential role in the life of an ecosystem attracting insects and birds which in turn spread the plants seeds. 

There are many well known berry producing plants, but those of the genus Vaccinium are particularly interesting. We have three species in Shropshire, some relatively rare but findable on our Stiperstones nature reserves.

Two other autumn berries, crowberry and cloudberry are also found locally, but are much rarer.

Whinberry Vaccinium Myrtillus

Whinberry, sometimes also called wimberry, is the Shropshire name for bilberry. The berries are very dark blue, almost black and are often hidden under leaves so picking has to be done on hands and knees!

It is a plant found widely on the Shropshire Hills and has a long history in the local area. It was an important crop up until the Second World War when whole families would make their way onto the hills to pick the fruits to sell to the textile industry as a  dye - children would often be absent from school for several days during whinberry season. 

Cowberry on Stiperstones

Ben Osborne

Cowberry Vaccinium vitis-idaea

A distinctive plant,  the cowberry is a low growing shrub with scarlet red fruits appearing at the end of summer. Confusingly it has up to 25 other English names including lingonberry and whortleberry. The berries are edible but have a sharp sour taste, cooked and sweetened they make delicious jam.

The cowberry can be found on the north Shropshire Mosses. It is favoured by lots of wildlife, including song thrushes, blackbirds, mice, badgers and squirrels.

Cranberry Vaccinium oxycoccos

A low shrub with pretty bright pink flowers which produce edible orange-red fruits. Our native species favours bogs and wet heaths usually creeping amongst Sphagnum mossIt is especially suited to making jam because of the amount of pectin it contains. Your Christmas cranberry sauce is a different species commercially grown in America.

Crowberry

Crowberry Empetrum nigrum

The crowberry has blue/black berries which cluster around the stalk and are a good source of antioxidants. But beware, they are said to cause extreme flatulence! Interestingly, crowberry leaves are covered with glands that produce toxic substances. When they fall to the ground and start to decompose, leaves release toxins into the soil that prevents growth of other competing plant species.

The crowberry has an unusually large distribution in the northern hemisphere, attributed to long distance migratory birds dispersing seeds. It’s also a vital addition to the diet of the Inuit in Sub-Arctic areas. 

Cloudberry

Cloudberry Rubus chamaemorus

This relative of the blackberry is only found in one place on the Mosses of the Shropshire border. The cloudberry is native to cool climates such as Sweden, where it is a great delicacy but due to peatland extraction and drainage the species is considered endangered. It has orange marmalade coloured fruits, with the shape attributed to the cloudberries other name - knotberry. Apparently they have a sour taste and are much better as jam. 

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