Foraging plants in the norwegian mountains – 6. History of the project

My best view – Andersnatten at 23:00 in June.

Anyone would think I am trying to sell Norway. I am, it is a fantastically beautiful country. The picture above is in Sigdal, the valley below Haglebu. It is the view we had from the house we built in the late 1970’s. It is from here that I learnt to love Norwegian flora.

In the previous blog I finished off by saying that I still hadn’t seen any sign of one of the two species that got me going with this series of plants. This was the Bearberry (Arcostaphylos uva-ursi). I had already found out that they were not known to grow in the county I now live – along the west side of the Oslo Fjord; In fact locals didn’t seem to know about the plant!

In 2017, that very first summer of sketching, I managed to do some sketches of each of the five species already found. This gave me a feel for the plants but I still needed to do a lot of research into them. I had found that the cloudberry is dioecious – the male and female reproductive organs are separated in two different organisms; each plant is either male or female. My girlfriend from whom we had borrowed the cottage that year, was not aware of this. But, it seems, she was not alone in this as it was a surprise to many Norwegians with a cursory knowledge of the plants around them.

There was plenty of mountain crowberry ( Empetrum nigrum subsp. hermaphroditum) in the area round the cottage. The crowberry is a family of plants that isn’t quite straight forward in that the species at lower altitudes is dioecious like the Cloudberry, but at this altitude in the mountains is more generally a subspecies called ‘hermaphroditum’. This means it carries both male and female reproductive parts.

Finding plants and choices in 2018

The cottage at Flatvollen, near Haglebu. 906 metres over sea level.

As I realised I was going to need quite a few years to complete my series with only two weeks at a time when we could get to Norway, we decided to rent a cottage at a higher level in the mountains. We looked at an area where I had used to go skiing when younger – Haglebu at the top of the Sigdal valley where it goes over the mountain then steeply down into the next valley. This time we found a cottage at 906 metres over sea level and I could see that I would be near the plants I intended to paint. Although I still hadn’t found the one plant I had been looking for.

In front of the cottage there was quite a boggy plain and I knew that I could get plants such as Cloudberry there. Behind the cottage was steep mountain and I knew most of the other plants would be available to me there. 

We went for a short hike and explored. The marshy area was quite wet, but there were a lot of Cloudberry plants. Unfortunately, it was too late in the season to see any flowers but getting onto my hands and knees I got a real surprise. Weaving in and out of the boggy moss was the tiniest plant, with the smallest flowers and leaves. The plant was so insubstantial but lying on top of the moss were the remains of some red berries. This was Vaccinium oxycoccus Subsp. microcarpum (small Cranberry). The Cranberry bought in our shops is Vaccinium macrocarpum – large cranberry, and of course cultivated in large amounts in the US. 

I had just found my 6th plant, but still not the bearberry.

Below you see the small cranberry on top of the moss with sprigs of bog bilberry and mountain crowberry and a little Betula nana (Dwarf birch), often found as the last tree (no more than a low shrub) on the tree line.

I had to remind myself that the reason for getting interested in this series of plants was because the bearberry often got mixed up with the lingonberry (cowberry), and this often happened at lower elevations. I needed to continue my hunt for the species.

We went hunting and eventually I found quite a few plants in a dry sandy forest area in the next valley. This was Arctostaphylos uva-ursi (bearberry). I now had my seven species, although one of them was not in the immediate area where I was collecting my samples. That is, until I found some very near the cottage, growing down a rock face.

Finding the Arctostaphylos uva-ursi (bearberry)

More on the 9 April 2023