Foraging plants in the norwegian mountains – 17. Bog bilberry Pt.1

Walking over a mountain top on the other side of the valley from our rented cottage.

The English common name for Vaccinium uliginosum is bog bilberry and one of the Norwegian names is skinntryte.

All the Vacciniums are heathers and in fact all in the series except for the Cloudberry, are in the Ericaceae family

I feel that both the Bog Bilberry and the Bilberry are plants I have always known, although I didn’t meet them until I was 20 years old on my first visit to Norway. Norwegians refer to Bilberries as Blueberries (direct translation is blue berry); Very confusing when these days it is very common to be able to buy Blueberries in the shops; which they actually call blueberries. But they are yet another Vaccinium species!!

Are you still with me!

The scrub on the edge of the marsh containing a mix of some of the species chosen for the series.

The Bilberry and Bog Bilberry cross over onto each others preferred growing patches, and the berries look similar at first glance, although it is fairly easy to pick over a full bucket from a foraging session if needed.

The Bog bilberry seems to grow better amongst the scrubby flora seen across a marshy landscape, but smaller examples also seem to survive on rocky mountain tops where there is a sparsity of nourishment; I’m not sure that they produce much fruit though.

It is easy to see the difference in the growing habit between a Bog bilberry and a Bilberry. For the former, the stem is woody whereas it is green and angular for the Bilberry.

The Bog bilberry fruit at 8-12mm is larger than the Bilberry and does not have the strong ‘good for you’ Anthocyanin content that Bilberries have. The flesh of the fruit is pale and the skin is blue with a bloom.

Size of a bog bilberry.

But don’t worry if you have the opportunity to pick both fruits where you are, both are just as edible.

I will be publishing the blog about the Bilberry on 25th May, so be sure to compare the fruit in these blogs and the full painting at the end of the series.

As well as the fruit appearing bluer than Bilberries, the leaves of the Bog bilberry have a slightly different shape and colour. Look at the picture above where you can see both bog bilberry and bilberry leaves side by side and further down where you also see a mix of different species.

Bog bilberry leaves are seen as blue-green, the shape is long and oval, they are slightly thicker than the bilberry with a very visible network of veins . New leaves tend to have a red edge which gradually changes to an overall bluey-green as the season progresses. But constant sun can keep the leaves fairly red towards the tip.

Autumn bog blueberry plants with fruit together with the changing colours of the dwarf birch.
The twin flowers at the end of a shoot.

The flower is typical for the heather family and can be recognised as such almost immediately. But whereas the Bilberry flower is solitary in its leaf axile, the Bog bilberry flowers appear in pairs. I have seen it described on several occasions as looking like a set of testicles!

Getting on to painting this species, I spent a while on researching and drawing sketches of this plant – which I will talk about in my next blog.

But I did at least a couple of trial pieces on vellum where the first one felt very much like a botch job – but I learnt from it. The second one was very useful and helped me to decide what to do – and of course what not to do.

I used this original set-up to to paint the final picture, but as I have described earlier, I can use a sketch and paint from different leaves and branches in front of me. This is exactly what I did for this section of the painting. The final painting is a little different with a focus on the berries rather than the flowers.

The continuing blog on the Bog bilberry is planned for 18th May – the day after the Norwegian national day!

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