Flora of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago


S.G. Aiken, M.J. Dallwitz, L.L. Consaul, C.L. McJannet, R.L. Boles, G.W. Argus, J.M. Gillett, P.J. Scott, R. Elven, M.C. LeBlanc, L.J. Gillespie, A.K. Brysting, H. Solstad, and J.G. Harris

Vaccinium vitis-idaea L. subsp. minus (Lodd.) Hultén

English: Mountain cranberry, lingonberry, cowberry, partridge berry,

French: Airelle rouge graines,

Inuktitut: Kimminnait; Kimminaq, kimminaqutik (Nunavik).

Ericaceae, Bilberry family.

Published in Fl. Aleut. Isl. 268. 1937.

Synonymy. Vaccinium vitis-idaea L. var. minus Lodd., Bot. Cab. 11: 1023. 1825.

Rhodococcum minus (Lodd.) Avrorin, Bot. Zhurn. (Moscow and Leningrad) 43: 1722. 1958.

Vegetative morphology. Plants 2–10(–15) cm high; shrubs; dwarf shrubs. Fibrous roots along the stems. Horizontal stems at ground level, branching extensively to shape plant habit as mats (sometimes). Aerial stems erect and prostrate. Aerial stem trichomes appressed, or spreading. Leaves present; distributed along the stems; alternate; persistent. Petioles present; 1–1.5 mm long; hairy. Petiole hairs reflexed; curved. Leaf blade bases cuneate. Blades (2.5–)4–12 mm long, (1.5–)3–8 mm wide, oblong or elliptic, flat (margins slightly rolled under), appearing single-veined. Blade adaxial surface shiny (lustrous when fresh), without sessile glands, glabrous (conspicuously wrinkled at 10×). Blade abaxial surface with sessile glands (that appear as sparse, small brown dots), glabrous (lighter in colour than adaxial surface). Blade margins slightly revolute. Blade margins entire, glabrous; apices obtuse, or rounded.

Reproductive morphology. Flowering stems two or more per plant. Flowers in inflorescences (of 2–4 nodding flowers). Inflorescences spicate, or fasciculate; lateral. Pedicels present (but only 1–2 mm long). Bract leaves 2–5 mm long. Floral bracts light rose; 0.5–1.5 mm long; 0.5–1 mm wide; glabrous; apices entire. Flowers per inflorescence 1–4; small. Sepals conventional; 5; fused (at the base); 0.8–1 mm wide; red (wine-coloured). Calyx funnel-form; 5-lobed; without sessile glands; glabrous. Petals conventional; fused; 5; white; 5–6 mm long. Corolla campanulate. Stamens 8–10. Anthers reddish, becoming yellow. Anthers opening with a terminal pore. Anthers 1.8–2.2 mm long (each anther has two long, straight tubes that open by apical pores; the pollen containing portion is approximately 1 mm long; the tubes are of similar length). Nectaries present. Ovary inferior; carpels 4; syncarpous. Ovaries sub-globose; glabrous. Styles 1. Placentation axile. Ovules per ovary numerous. Fruit sessile; with calyx persisting; fleshy; a berry; spherical; red (drying black); 6–9 mm long; 6–9 mm wide; glabrous; surface appearing veinless; indehiscent. Seeds numerous; 1–1.2 mm long; yellowish; surfaces ridged (at 40×).

Chromosome information. 2n = 24 and 48.

2n (4x) = 24. Löve (1954b); Löve and Löve (1966b, northeastern USA; 1982a, central Canada); Sokolovskaya (1968, northeastern Asia, Koryak); Taylor and Mulligan (1968, western Canada); Zhukova and Petrovsky (1971, Wrangel Island); Pojar (1973, western Canada); Packer and McPherson (1974, northern Alaska); Zhukova et al. (1977, northeastern Asia); Dalgaard (1989, western Greenland);

2n (8x) = 48. Johnson and Packer (1968, northeastern Alaska, given as n = 24).

Ploidy levels recorded 4x and 8x.

Indigenous knowledge. The leaves can be used to make tea. The ripe red berries are slightly acidic but tasty and very healthy. Today kimminait are used to make jam (Ootoova et al. 2001).

To ease a sore throat, eat cranberries, raw or boiled (Anon 1984). Cranberries are often used to treat small children who have mouth infections. The berry is squeezed inside the mouth, which hurts a bit, but is effective. Cranberries are also eaten (sometimes boiled) for sore throats and coughing or by sick people who have lost their appetite. ‘It helps you get ready to eat meat again’(Anon 1984).

Cranberries have long been in demand as a food plant. The fruit was prized by Native Americans who used it in many ways, including in pemmican, a dried mixture of animal fat and fruit, which was the precursor of the dehydrated foods used today. Benzoic acid in the berries likely aided in preservation. The Pilgrims, on arriving in the New World, observed cranberries growing profusely in the area about Cape Cod, and noted that the Indians used the fruit as a source of a brilliant red dye for their clothes (Small and Catling 1999).

Andre and Fehr (2000) reported that Gwich'in people enjoy eating the berries raw or with sugar or added to breads, jams, pies, muffins, and it'suh (a desert made from pounded dry fish. For the recipe, see Empetrum). Pudding sauce can be made by adding a paste made of flour or custard powder to the boiled berries.

Andre and Fehr (2000) reported that Gwich'in people used the juice for treating kidney problems. Colds were treated by taking 2–3 cups of cranberry juice made by simmering berries for up to 30 minutes. Such juice also improved digestion and appetite.

Cranberry juice is good for dyeing porcupine quills (Andre and Fehr 2000).

Porsild (1953) noted that a very refreshing beverage is made from the diluted, sweetened juice.

In the past the Inupiaq people would collect the berries in great quantities. They would be eaten mixed with meat, fats, fish eggs, fish, or blubber. Cranberry juice is good for kidney problems, and a tea made from the leaves can relieve a cough. Inupiaq used to keep the berries over winter by storing them in long, shallow birch-bark baskets with a tight lid in an underground pit (Mallory and Aiken 2004).

Taxon as an environmental indicator. Fruits ripen only in exceptionally warm summers in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. On continental North America, this species is often dominant in open, acidic, turfy and boggy places (Porsild and Cody 1980).

Ecology and habitat. Substrates: hummocks, tundra, slopes, ridges; imperfectly drained moist areas, dry, moderately well-drained areas; rocks, sand; with high organic content, peat; acidic.

North American distribution. Alaska, Yukon, Northwest Territories Islands, continental Northwest Territories, Nunavut Islands, continental Nunavut, northern Quebec, Labrador. Range in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago limited. Uncommon. Low Arctic. Arctic islands: Baffin, Victoria, Southampton (Digges Island and Melville Peninsula).

Northern hemisphere distribution. Circumpolar, or circumboreal (with a small gap in northwestern Europe and eastern Greenland). Northern Fennoscandian, Kanin–Pechora, Polar Ural – Novaya Zemlya, Yamal–Gydan, Taimyr – Severnaya Zemlya, Anabar–Olenyok, Kharaulakh, Yana–Kolyma, West Chukotka, Wrangel Island, South Chukotka, East Chukotka, West Alaska, North Alaska – Yukon, Central Canada, Labrador – Hudson Bay, Ellesmere Land – Peary Land, West Greenland.

Economic uses. Small et al. (2003) provided the following information.

Agricultural and Commercial Aspects

The lingonberry grows well in very cold climates, and very poorly in warm areas. The species is normally harvested from the wild, but is sometimes grown, and is currently being developed as a crop in both Europe and North America.


Lingonberry is a familiar wild fruit in northern Europe, where its harvest and processing are well established, and there is continuing breeding of improved cultivars. The industry is in the early stages of development in Canada. It is centred in Newfoundland, but the crop is suitable for many of the northern areas of the country. The market for lingonberries in the United States is very small at present, but likely has very good potential. The fruit has an attractive appearance and interesting taste, and could become a gourmet item in North America. There is also good potential for exports to other areas of the world.

General notes. Subspecies minus is a minor wild-collected crop of Newfoundland (over 100,000 kg/year) and Nova Scotia (about 5000 kg/year).

The lingonberry has been occasionally used medicinally as a urinary antiseptic (Fleet 1994). Cranberries are extremely high in vitamin C, moderately high in vitamin A, and quite high in fibre and anthocyanins, all components that have health-giving qualities. Hippuric acid is an important medicinal constituent of the fruit. The metabolism of this compound produces low-pH urine, unlike most other fruits. Evidence was presented to show that lingonberry exhibits potential anticarcinogenic activity, as evaluated by in vitro screening tests (Bomser et al. 1996).

The epithet vitis-idaea is Latin for grape of Mount Ida. There are two Mount Ida’s of classical Greek mythology, one in Crete, the other in Asia Minor. ‘A number of species are named after Mount Ida that do not actually grow in either location, and this includes the lingonberry. Not only is ‘grape of Mount Ida’ a misnomer in this respect, but neither the fruit nor the plant resembles a grape. Subspecies minus, the variety in the Arctic Archipelago, is appropriately named with the Latin word for ‘lesser,’ indicative of its smaller stature and smaller berries compared to the European variety.’ (Small et al. 2003, p. 61).

‘‘Lingonberry’ (and variants such as lingenbery, lingberry, linberry, lingon, lingen) are derived from the Swedish word lingon, meaning lingonberry. The plant is also known by more than 25 other English names, including alpine cranberry, cowberry, dry ground cranberry, foxberry, lowbush cranberry (in Alaska), moss cranberry, mountain cranberry, partridgeberry, red berry, red bilberry, red whortleberry, and rock cranberry. ‘Partridgeberry’ is the name usually applied to the lingonberry in Newfoundland, the chief area of collection in North America. This may be based on a historical confusion of the lingonberry with the plant usually known as partridgeberry, Mitchella repens L. of the madder family (Rubiaceae) (Small et al. 2003)... French names: Airelle vigne-d’Ida, airelle ponctu‚ bleuet vigne d’Ida, pommes de terre, pommes (the basis for the name of the St. Lawrence River islet l’Îsle aux Pommes, opposite Trois-Pistoles), berris (An Acadian word, based on a corruption of the English ‘berry’), graines rouges (Small et al. 2003, p. 61).’


In North America the species occurs in jack pine stands, spruce forests, raised bogs, muskegs, dry rocky barrens, lichen woodlands, and in a wide range of exposed habitats, including heaths, high moors, headlands, tundra, cliffs, and mountain summits" (p. 62).

"Use as Food

Lingonberries have been described as ‘shaped like blueberries but acid like cranberries.’ They have a high tannin and anthocyanin content, and are very acidic (with a pH of 2.5). While pleasantly tart and aromatic, the fruits may be bitter, especially when unripe. Although lingonberries may be eaten raw, most people think they are too bitter. The berries have been said to taste best if they overwinter and are eaten during the melting of the snow. Lingonberries are high in benzoic acid, resulting in a long shelf life - over 8 weeks under normal refrigeration. The very small seeds are not noticeable in the fruit or processed products. The fruit is usually made into a sauce. The berries are also used in preserves, jams, jellies, syrups, juice, candy, ice cream, pastries (especially bread and pies), condiments, and wines and liqueurs.’ (p. 62).

Non-Food Uses

"In northern Europe, delivering mothers once drank a decoction of lingonberry to prevent bleeding. Native American peoples made fairly extensive medicinal use of lingonberries." (p. 63)

Sources of Additional Information (Small et al. 2003, p. 65)

Novelli, S. 2003. Berries. Bi-weekly Bulletin 16(21) -


Penhallegon, R. Stalking the wild (and not-so-wild) lingonberry -


USDA Forest Service. The fire effects information system (FEIS) -


Vander Kloet, S.P. 1988. The genus Vaccinium in North America. Agriculture Canada.

Illustrations. • Habitat: Dorset. Isolated flowering plants growing in dry cryptogamic mat. Late date of flowering may reflect poor weather earlier in the season. Nunavut, Baffin Island, Cape Dorset. 6 August, 2005. No voucher. • Habitat. Flowering plants growing in the shelter of a rock. Nunavut, southern Baffin Island. Aiken and Mallory 2002. No voucher. • Habitat. Flowers in clusters of 2–4, with wine-red sepals and white or pink-tinged petals. Nunavut, Baffin Island, Iqaluit. 21 July, 1982. J.M. Gillett. • Close-up of leaves in spring: Baffin Island. Overwinter the leaves turn red or yellowish but do not die. 2003. Photograph Carolyn Mallory. • Leaves turning green in spring. Overwinter the leaves turn red or yellowish but do not die. In the spring they turn green again and apparently resume active growth. 2003. Photograph Carolyn Mallory. • Inflorescence in bud. Centre of inflorescence shows a bud with bract leaves, one visible sepal and red petals. Aiken and Mallory 2002. No voucher. • Close-up of plant. Plants in flower. Note small deep-red free sepals and fused pale-pink bell-shaped corollas. Nunavut, Baffin Island, Iqaluit. No voucher. • Close-up of flowers. Plants growing with a white foliose lichen. Note relatively large pinkish green bracts subtending flowers, relatively small deep or pale pink sepals white bell-shaped petals. Nunavut, Baffin Island, Iqaluit. 24 July, 2005. Photograph Kathy Thornhill. • Close-up of opening buds. Note oblong leaves with waxy shiny adaxial surface, bracts subtending flowers, inferior ovary with small pinkish sepals on top and young petals with pinkish tips that fade white as the flower opens. Nunavut, Baffin Island, Iqaluit. 24 July, 2005. Photograph Kathy Thornhill. • Cranberry and crowberry in fruit. Cranberry and crowberry growing together. N.W.T., Tuktoyaytuk. 2001. No Voucher. • Habitat: Plants in fruit. Low, prostrate shrubs with shiny leathery leaves and red berries. Nunavut, Baffin Island, Iqaluit. Aiken 97–046. CAN. Scale bar in cm. • Close-up of fruit. Shiny red fruits, 6–9 mm in diameter. At the apex of the fruit, the position of the five carpels of the inferior ovary is outlined. Nunavut, Baffin Island, Iqaluit. Aiken 1999. No voucher. • Arctic Island Distribution.

This publication is available on the internet (posted May 2011) and on CD-ROM (published in 2007). These versions are identical in content, except that the errata page for CD-ROM is accessible on the main index page of the web version.

Recommended citation for the web-based version of this publication: Aiken, S.G., Dallwitz, M.J., Consaul, L.L., McJannet, C.L., Boles, R.L., Argus, G.W., Gillett, J.M., Scott, P.J., Elven, R., LeBlanc, M.C., Gillespie, L.J., Brysting, A.K., Solstad, H., and Harris, J.G. 2007. Flora of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago: Descriptions, Illustrations, Identification, and Information Retrieval. NRC Research Press, National Research Council of Canada, Ottawa. http://nature.ca/aaflora/data, accessed on DATE.

Recommended citation for the CD-ROM version of this publication: Aiken, S.G., Dallwitz, M.J., Consaul, L.L., McJannet, C.L., Boles, R.L., Argus, G.W., Gillett, J.M., Scott, P.J., Elven, R., LeBlanc, M.C., Gillespie, L.J., Brysting, A.K., Solstad, H., and Harris, J.G. 2007. Flora of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago: Descriptions, Illustrations, Identification, and Information Retrieval. [CD-ROM] NRC Research Press, National Research Council of Canada, Ottawa.