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Stang, E.J., G.G. Weis, and J. Klueh. 1990. Lingonberry: Potential new fruit for the northern United States. p. 321-323. In: J. Janick and J.E. Simon (eds.), Advances in new crops. Timber Press, Portland, OR.

Lingonberry: Potential New Fruit for the Northern United States

Elden J. Stang, Gavin G. Weis, and John Klueh

  5. Fig. 1
  6. Fig. 2


The lingonberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea L.) is a woody, evergreen dwarf shrub distributed worldwide in northern temperate, boreal, and subarctic areas. Lingonberry fruit is an important berry crop harvested from the wild throughout its distribution in northern regions of the world. Major exporting countries are Sweden, Finland, and the Soviet Union (Liebster 1977, Holloway 1981). Canada is the major source of fresh fruit in the United States although annual estimates of exports approximating 1 metric ton are generally inconsistent and likely inaccurate (U.S. Foreign Agriculture Service, personal communication, 1987). Worldwide, urban encroachment, changes in forest management, uncontrollable fruit quality from native stands and fluctuations in annual yield due to climatic variation have stimulated research on plant improvement and methods of cultivation (Pliszka and Kawecki 1985, Trajkovski 1985, Hail and Shay 1986, Holloway 1981). Previous research on lingonberries in Minnesota, essentially terminated in the early 1980s, involved screening of seedlings, characterization of the species, and plant vegetative and reproductive behavior (Holloway 1982). Attempts to domesticate the species were carried out by Lehmushovi and Hiirsalmi (1973), Lehmushovi and Säkö (1975), Lehmushovi (1977), Fernquist (1977), Liebster (1975), and Holloway (1981).

Holloway (1981) notes at least 25 common names for V. vitis-idaea worldwide. Among the more common English names are lingonberry, cowberry, moss cranberry, mountain cranberry, partridgeberry, red whortleberry, alpine cranberry or simply lingon or lingen. For marketing reasons, Pliszka (I 985) suggested the name lingonberry be used in preference to cowberry

Throughout its natural range, a multitude of lingonberry fruit uses are reported. These include juice, sauce, preserves, candy, jelly, syrup, ice cream, pickles, wine, and liqueurs (Iwagaki et al. 1977, Liebster 1977, Holloway 1981, Müller 1977). Other uses include extraction of arbutin from leaves for use as a medicinal for stomach disorders (Racz et al. 1962) and use of the plant primarily as an ornamental ground cover (Rehder 1940).


Camp (1945) characterized the lingonberry Vaccinium vitis-idaea as an evergreen dwarf shrub of the Ericaceae, subgenus Vitis-idaea (Moench) W. Koch. Plant stems are semi-woody, bearing numerous shoots 1-2 mm in diameter. Simple, petiolate, evergreen, leathery, obovate leaves alternate in a spiral. Leaf upper surface is dark green; the lower surface is pale green, waxy with black glandular dots. Plants reproduce by seeds and rhizomes. Roots consist of tap roots with finely divided rootlets at the extremities and adventitious roots occurring at nodes along creeping stems and rhizomes. Flowers (Fig. 1) are produced singly or in clusters in terminal racemes, with four locules per ovary, four sepals, a bell-shaped corolla and eight stamens with nonspurred anthers (Hail and Shay 1981). Pollen is borne in tetrads shed through a terminal pore in the anther. The ovary is inferior producing a true globose berry, carmine in color when ripe, up to 1 cm in diameter (Fig. 2).

Fernald (1970) considered the smaller north American form as a variety .V vitis-idaea L. var. minus Lodd. and the larger European plant as the variety vitis-idaea. Hulten (1970) recognizes the two races as subspecies with vitis-idaea as the larger lowland race and the dwarf arctic montane race as minus (Lodd) Hult. Both are distinguished mainly by plant size. Leaf size in V. vitis-idaea may average 2.5 cm in length and 1.0 cm in width, V. vitis-idaea var. minus 1.0 cm in length and 0.5 cm in width (Welsh 1974). Plant height for V. vitis-idaea may exceed 30 cm, for vitis-idaea var. minus height rarely exceeds 20 cm (Fernald 1970). Both North American and European varieties are reported by various authors (Hall and Shay 1981) to have chromosome numbers 2n = 24.


Preliminary cultivation and screening trials at the University of Wisconsin-Madison since 1984 suggest lingonberries are potentially suited for cultivation in Wisconsin. Our objectives are: to screen clonal and seed propagated populations of lingonberry for adaptability and productivity; to evaluate selected cultivation practices including soil amelioration, herbicides for weed control, and varying irrigation regimes; and to evaluate the influence of selected plant growth regulators on propagation, plant growth and fruiting. Small scale grower evaluation and demonstration trials are proposed concurrent with these objectives.

Sandy, acidic soil (pH 5-6) with at least 2% organic matter is reported to be the best field medium for establishment and early growth of V. vitis-idaea (Fernquist 1977). Predominant soil in our evaluation region is Plainfield Sandy loam (sandy, mixed, mesic, typic Fragiudalf, pH 5.9-6.2). Irrigation for horticultural production is a necessity in this soil; ample water for irrigation is readily available in the area at 20-40 m depths from the surface.

Initial trials were observational and involved limited screening of 100-300 lingonberry seedlings each from open pollinated European clones and native North American (Alaska, Newfoundland) fruit collected in the wild. From this population eleven selections were made in 1987 based on subjective evaluations of precocity, plant vigor and rhizome production. These selections, propagated from rhizome cuttings, were placed in replicated selection trials in 1988 with clonally propagated European cultivars 'Erntekrone', 'Erntesegen', 'Erntedank', and 'Koralle' to evaluate hardiness, plant growth, flowering, productivity, and adaptability to irrigated culture under Wisconsin climatic conditions.

A population of 15,000 open pollinated seedlings of V. vitis-idaea from the Democratic Republic of Germany, Poland, the USSR, Sweden, Norway, Finland and V. vitis-idaea var. minus from Newfoundland was established in 1988 for additional screening and selection trials. Selections from these seedlings are to form the core population for further replicated evaluations for desirable plant and fruit characteristics.

Successful introduction will depend on the ability to supply the market with a high quality product and then to increase market size. Well established demand and existing markets exist throughout much of the northern hemisphere. The expectation of continuing fluctuations in the supply of lingonberries from the wild suggests potential for commercial success in cultivation and marketing of this new crop.


Fig. 1. Plant form and flowering in lingonberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea L.).

Fig. 2. Fruiting in lingonberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea L.). Mature berry size 7-10 mm diameter.

Last update August 28, 1997