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Vaccinium vitis -Idaea L.

Modern name

Vaccinium vitis -idaea L.

A low, evergreen, creeping shrub, 6 to 10 in. high, with round, wiry, few-branched stems, covered when young with short, black down. Leaves dark lustrous green, box-like, obovate, often notched at the apex, shortly stalked, 38 to 1 in. long, about half as wide, the lower surface sprinkled with black dots. Flowers produced during May and June, five to twelve together in terminal racemes less than 1 in. long. Corolla white or pinkish, bell-shaped, rather deeply four-lobed, 14 in. long. Berries dark red, globular, acid and harsh in flavour, 25 in. wide.

Considered in a wide sense, this species girdles the globe in high latitudes of the northern hemisphere, and also occurs in many mountain ranges farther south. In the British Isles it is common in Scotland and northern England, and extends through Wales as far south as Somerset and Devon; it also occurs in northern and eastern Ireland. The cowberry is the handsomest of the native vacciniums, the dark glossy foliage making neat, dense tufts. In suitable positions it spreads quickly by means of its creeping root-stock, and makes a useful ground-cover on acid soils. The fruits are palatable when cooked, and put to the same culinary use as cranberries or red currants.

f. majus (Lodd.) Rehd. V. vitis-idaea major Lodd. – Leaves larger than in the typical state, to 138 in. long. This occurs occasionally in Europe.

subsp. minus (Lodd.) Hultén V. vitis-idaea minor Lodd.; V. v. var. pumilum Hornemann – Smaller in all its parts, the leaves being up to 58 or 34 in. long. This replaces the typical state in Arctic regions and in the mountains of N. America.

The specific epithet is an old generic name, Vitis Idaea, meaning ‘Grape of Mt Ida’, and was used by many of the pre-Linnaean botanists for the European vacciniums, but who coined it and why is not recorded.

From the Supplement (Vol. V)

Further to the note at the top of page 682 (last paragraph), the name started in the Enquiry into Plants of Theophrastus (4th century B.C.) as the ‘vine of Ida’, by which he meant the Mount Ida of north-west Anatolia and not the Cretan Ida. It is difficult to say what the shrub was, but his description of the plant as having black juicy fruits and small, round, undivided leaves would make Cotoneaster nummularia a strong candidate, except for the fact that it does not at the present time extend so far west in Anatolia.

† cv. ‘Koralle. – This is not a clonal name. It was given collectively to thirty-five seedlings raised in Holland from a free-fruiting plant with unusually large berries. In this race the berries are bright coral-red at first, darkening when fully ripe. It is recommended that two clones should be grown to ensure a good set of fruit (Dendroflora, No. 7, pp. 85-6 (1970)).

It should be added that the cowberry has the reputation for shy-fruiting in gardens. In the wild, where it usually grows in masses, it is cross-pollinated by insects and this may explain why single plants in gardens can disappoint.



Other species in the genus