Foraging plants in the norwegian mountains – 21. Bilberry Pt. 1

Bilberry painted on vellum

Vaccinium myrtillus -bilberry – blåbær

It is considered to be one of the healthiest berries and has one of the richest natural sources of anthocyanin giving the bilberry its blue/black colour. The bilberry, with a high antioxidant content, is believed to be responsible for the many health benefits, more so than many other berry fruits. In traditional European medicine, bilberry has been used for over a 1000 years.

Stained hands from picking

I remember seeing the effect of picking and eating bilberries in western Norway in June 1967. I was being shown how beautiful Norway is and we were on a hill overlooking the Stavanger fjord. A future nephew was picking and eating the berries as he walked along and he turned to me laughing. His face and hands were covered with the juice and his tongue was completely black. It didn’t take me long to realise my face was in a similar state! The blue colour is the anthocyanin that make these berries so good for you. No wonder Bilberry has also been used for dying clothes and food.

I have a lovely picture of my daughter’s grinning face and tongue almost black – but I don’t think she would forgive me if I posted it here!

English bilberry flowers.

Whilst living and hiking in the UK, we often found Bilberry plants in areas on the edge of heathland as it doesn’t seem to do too well in very open areas. The New Forest was a good source an hour away from where we lived at the time. 

Bilberries and Lingonberries packed and ready to go in the freezer in Norway

In Norway the plants are everywhere in the woods and also grows well in acidic soils on heaths and marshes.

It is easy to forage and stock up each year!

Picking bilberry and lignonberry

Our Norwegian garden is rocky and on the edge of woods. We have Bilberries growing in the garden and unlike my neighbours wouldn’t dream of getting rid of them to replace with other plants. I love being able to pick them  for a delicious dessert whenever I feel like it during the season. But even more exciting for this project, was being able to pick them and paint from them in the comfort of my own home. 

Roe deer baby nibbling the tips of the Beech in our garden.

As well as nourishment for us, the plants help to provide nourishment for the Roe Deer that visit us regularly during the winter months. I am happy to let them graze and nibble the tips of the branches as they were here long before people lived in this area. Luckily, they don’t seem to do it all the year round. This is a baby from a family of mother and three small ones that we have had the pleasure of seeing develop.

The Bilberry is not to be confused with Blueberries bought in the fruit department of your local shop. Those are Vaccinium corymbosum and a ‘high bush’’ variant. One can clearly see the difference as the High bush type have pale flesh showing they do not contain the same amount of anthocyanin – the good for you factor.

Researching Vaccinium myrtillus was just as exciting as researching all the plants in the series, even though I thought I knew it the best. I am really glad I did so before beginning to sketch as I could easily have been less observant in relation to the number of flowers and resultant fruit on a branch. Unless equally familiar with the Bilberry and Bog bilberry, these two can easily be confused. But in reality there are considerable differences. For starters, the Bilberry only has one flower in a leaf axil, whereas the Bog bilberry has two!

The next blog showing more of how I painted the Bilberry picture, is scheduled for 1 June 2023. We are rapidly approaching the RHS exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery opening to the public16 June.

Foraging plants in the norwegian mountains – 20. Mountain crowberry Pt. 2

One day, I woke up to find that the male part of the flower which projects an anther over the flower, had been eaten off. I was lucky enough to find other buds I hadn’t noticed before and managed to keep the eating insects away until the stamens shrivelled up of their own accord. This allowed me to complete the picture as I had hoped.

Of course this process was so exciting that it kept me motivated to paint all the tiny leaves!

I used quite a bit of my sketch page information in the final artwork, even the small immature berries I had found when starting to sketch in July 2017 and the trial piece on vellum.

Working out my composition and creating line drawing to trace over.

 When researching more on this plant recently, particularly in relation to its use in food, I discovered that although the berries are edible, apparently there is a potential for the leaves to poison the immediately local environment, making its own habitat more secure; the jury is still out on this question but it is wiser to leave the leaves alone.

But, the berries are fine and because the seeds are quite big and the skin quite tough, it is used mostly for juice, either cooked or raw. Additionally, it is suggested that whilst out walking in the mountains that picking and chewing the fruit is very thirst quenching. I will have to remember that.

Unripe fruit. Actual size 5.3mm

One sketch I didn’t use in the final artwork was this one from my initial drawings. It is very interesting but, in some respects, didn’t give any more information to the final picture. It is an unripe fruit, enlarged (the original fruit was 5.3 mm across), containing the sepals , the remainder of the female flower and the shrivelled stamens. Compare this with the ripe fruit at the beginning of the previous blog where the same parts are also just visible.

The native range of this subspecies is Subarctic to Subalpine Northern Hemisphere including Great Britain and Norway. It is a subshrub and grows primarily in the temperate biome. 

Source: Kew – Plants of the World Online

Having collected enough data and sketches, I started painting the final picture on vellum  August 2021 and finished it January 2022.


Mountain Crowberry jelly

Crowberry contains little pectin. This means that it is difficult, if not impossible, to make Mountain crowberry jelly based only on the berries. To get Mountain Crowberry jelly stiff, mix the berries with other types of berries that are rich in pectin, for example lingonberries. It is also possible to mix with apples, which contain a lot of pectin or gelatine sheets.

3 dl raw mountain crowberry juice (see recipe below)

Juice of a lemon

1-2 dl water

6-7 sheets of gelatine

  1. Soak the gelatine sheets for 5-10 minutes. 
  2. Pour off most of the water and dissolve them in a small amount of warm water. 
  3. Mix the cold Mountain crowberry juice, lemon juice and water. 
  4. Whilst continuously stirring, slowly and carefully pour the juice mixture into the melted gelatine. 
  5. Pour into clean small glasses. 

This is an excellent accompaniment to venison.

 Raw Mountain Crowberry juice

This is a fresh and colourful juice but not very durable, and requires a lot of sugar and a cold storage place. It is easier to freeze the juice in small portions and thawed when needed.

 1 kg Mountain Crowberries – or the amount picked.

5 dl boiled and cooled water – equivalent 1:2 of berries

10 grams of citric acid – 25-30 gm per litre raw juice.

750 grams of sugar per litre of raw juice

  1. Rinse and crush the berries well. 
  2. Put the berry pulp in a large bowl or bucket, and add pre-boiled, cold water and citric acid. 
  3. Leave the mixture covered and chilled overnight.
  4. Pour the mass into a strainer and let the juice drain well. 
  5. Measure the amount of juice and add sugar. 
  6. Stir well until all the sugar has dissolved. 
  7. Skim and pour it into clean bottles/containers.

Can be mixed to taste with water – or something else. 

The next blog will be 28 May 2023

Foraging plants in the norwegian mountains – 19. Mountain crowberry Pt.1

Visiting family at 1200 meters. The red leaves are Arctostaphylos alpina -or Alpine bearberry and the berries also edible.
Just below the mountain top at 1100 metres. Mountain Crowberry, Red Lingonberries and autumn coloured Bilberry plants.
Mountain crowberry on vellum.

Empetrum nigrum subsp. hermaphroditum, mountain crowberry in english or krekling in norwegian, is a very interesting species. But when you start studying plants, which one is not interesting?

But this plant created a lot of excitement for me – which I will describe.

As with the other plants in this series, I knew and recognised the plant but didn’t know much about it. To me it was a common plant as I have lived in the mountains here, and like many people took it for granted. Apparently, it grows well as long as it gets enough sun.

One  part of my painting (see sketch) was a tiny plant from a mountain top 4th July, with snow swirling around me. The plant was tiny in comparison to those growing in areas where there is plenty of nourishment, but it definitely shows how tough it is. The roots were buried into cracks in the rock.

Sketch with tiny plant specimen.

As with the other plants in this series I used ‘Norges Flora’ by Knut Fægri to find out more. I would love to get hold of these books because although old, they contain so much information about each species.

It was in reading about the plant that I understood that there are two species of Empetrum nigrum, one is single sex and grows at sea level and low-lying areas, and the other, a subspecies, is hermaphrodite (the one I am painting). The leaf arrangement on the specimens I was using showed clearly that it was hermaphrodite; the distance between leaves is a diagnostic point.

Victsing lens

After doing my research I looked at the plant more closely and was able to see vestiges of a dried up flower in a leaf axil. I also read that the fruit retains the stamens as it develops and found some of these too. You will see the remnants of these in the ripe Mountain crowberry above.

Dried out flower vestiges

I have a piece of the plant in my garden and have been able to follow the plant’s development in detail. This was where the ‘Victsing’ lens for my mobile phone really came in useful as it helped to enhance the detail and let me see what was going on. I was also able to take loads of pictures underway.

In August 2017 the tiniest of buds started to appear in the leaf axils of that year’s new growth. I was able to follow the development on a regular basis, until the following spring when the same bud developed into the flower you see in my final artwork. I expect some of you may now understand why I got so excited.

The two pictures showing the growing tip of the plant were taken at different times. The first in August 2017 and the second in April 2018 – the same tip.

When I saw the tiny flower buds and recognised what they were, I initially thought that the plant was going to flower early and rushed out every morning to see what was happening. Nothing did until I saw the faintest slither of pink the next April.

I should have done more research! Because that is what a botanical artist needs to do; look, see and understand. I have learnt so much about plants since I started drawing them and this is the first thing my students comment; they learn to look and see! Funnily enough it makes walks in the countryside even more interesting.

I followed the same buds and saw them develop and open up into flowers that could hardly be seen with the naked eye. The flower when fully open is about 2mm across! But something had seen them, a tiny caterpillar! 

I will tell you about what happened in my next blog due to be published 25 May 2023.

One picture shows the tiny developing fruit with the vestiges of the stamens still attached. The underside of the leaves seem to have a white line running though, almost like a vein. As you can see with the leaf cut in half, the white line is where the edges of the leaves roll under and meet each other forming a hollow tube.

Foraging plants in the norwegian mountains – 18. Bog bilberry Pt.2

The lake about 100metres above the rented cottage.

I just can’t resist showing you how beautiful Norway is, with loads of clean water and little pollution. I hope that this will always be the case even though we feel global warming making its presence known here.

Planning The Vaccinium uliginosum artwork

The overall blue-ey nature of many bog bilberry plants

Obviously my knowledge of the Bog bilberry was one good reason to include it in this series of paintings on vellum, but its similarity to another plant in the series was another good reason. 

In the previous blog of the series, no. 17, I showed a picture of this species in a typical habitat with Bilberry, Mountain Crowberry and Cloudberry, one can see how different the Bilberry and Bog Bilberry is – at least in the autumn.

The picture here taken in August shows the overall blue-ey nature of the species when a lot of plants are together. By this time the red edge to the leaves has all but disappeared except for on new growth.

I started the sketch page in July 2017 although I had done the odd sketch before this. As with my other species I collected as much information as I could.

Researching the plant before actually drawing is important. I was able to get hold of a series of books called Norges Flora by Knut Fægri. The books are quite old but the description of habitat, scientific information and names still holds true. In fact these books gave me more information than I found anywhere else – unless I went into scholarly works!

The information in these books also told me what to look for – so much so that I really had to concentrate on the aim of the series rather than delving deeper. I have a tendency to want to do this and I am frequently at risk of doing too much: My vellum blocks would definitely not have been large enough. I just wish I had been able to own the books, but they were a loan from the library in Eggedal, a village on the way up to the cottage.

Once I felt I had enough sketches to work from I arranged the most important ones into a composition I was happy with. To the left is the Bog blueberry tracing on the Lightbox with the samples I had already done.

By the time I got to the artwork on vellum, I needed branches and fruit to paint from. Luckily enough we found an area about an hour from where we now live, therefore it wasn’t too bad to get there and back if I needed anything. But best of all, it was also a very good area for finding plenty of Lingonberries; Christmas dinner was now sorted!

The final painting on vellum was started  in September 2021 and except for the scalebars, was finished in December 2021.

Although I am attaching a slideshow of the final work process, I know that many have issues with the bloom on fruit. So here a few photos so that you can have time to study my process if you want to.

The native range of this species is Subarctic & Temp. Northern Hemisphere including both Great Britain and Norway. It is a subshrub or shrub and grows primarily in the subalpine or subarctic biome. 

Kew – Plants of the World Online o

Bog bilberry muffins Recipe

Makes 12

2 medium eggs
150 ml sugar
250 ml plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsp vanilla sugar
1 tsp cardamom seeds (from about 20 pods), ground
150 ml sour cream or plain yogurt
50 grams butter, melted & cooled
200-300 ml bog bilberries (or bilberries or blueberries)

Whisk eggs with sugar until pale and frothy.
Mix the dry ingredients. Add to the egg mixture together with sour cream and melted butter. Fold in the Bilberries.
Fill 12 hole muffin tray and bake at 225 C for 13-15 minutes, until muffins have risen and turned golden brown.

The next blog post about the Mountain crowberry will be published on 21st May 2023.

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!

Foraging plants in the norwegian mountains – 16. Small cranberry Pt.2

The marshy area where the small cranberry was found.

Planning the artwork

Digital callipers shown in an earlier blog. I use gloves so that fat from my hand is not transferred to the vellum, making it more difficult for pigment to adhere to the surface.

I began sketching the Vaccinium oxycoccus subsp. microcarpum (Small cranberry) in August 2018. The measurements of the tiny details were done using my trusty and accurate digital callipers.

Everything about the plant is tiny – except for the fruit, which is about the same size as a bilberry 5-8 mm.

When I first saw the plant and fruit meandering through the top of the moss, I couldn’t believe that such a slender plant could actually bear the weight of its fruit. As it happens, it doesn’t as everywhere I looked the fruit was either lying on top of the moss or supported by other structures in the marsh. The stems are so tender they are smaller than a blade of grass.

As with each of the other pictures I chose which sketches I would utilise from my sketchbook and arranged them with the help of the computer. I made continual adjustments to all of the plans so that visually they would appear as one exhibit. 

Can you see some of the parts sketched in the final artwork?

Digital plan of the composition. It is nearly the same as the final piece of work.

Each picture in the series was to hang ranged according to habitat from boggy and wet to sandy and dry.

The small cranberry was intended to start off the boggy end. But as the series has taken so long in the making, the criteria for exhibition has changed and I am allowed no more than six pictures.

Unfortunately, although completed, this picture will not be in the exhibit at the Saatchi gallery in June this year, but is still part of this series and will be treated as such in these blogs. I intend to show you all seven of the completed pictures after the judging process.

As with most of the pictures I did small trials on unmounted vellum to make sure I was choosing the right colours.

If you have read all the blogs about this series so far, you will have seen the finished trial piece in section 7, the last part of the history of the project.

The next photo is of that trial piece being worked on. I painted it twice natural size, the same as on the final artwork; you can see the flower sprig used as my model, lying on the vellum. Perhaps now you will have a better understanding of how tiny the species is.

Trial piece on vellum – in progress.

The colours I used: 

  • Quin Magenta PV122
  • Quin red PR209
  • Perylene violet PV29
  • Quin Gold PO49 (I don’t think single pigment can still be obtained)
  • Winsor Blue Green PB15.
  • Lemon Yellow PY175

Most of the trial pieces were painted at the cottage we rented, where I could easily source my subjects. I took over the dining table, with windows and light coming from the left. The family had to accept eating meals either outside or from a low coffee table. I was happy though!

My ‘studio table’ in the mountain cottage.

One of the biggest challenges with this plant was the root system. I remember a comment a judge once made about a botanical art piece; where the roots were likened to something having been put under the tap!

The Cranberry roots lie in very boggy wet areas and the hair-like system seems to fall away from the main stem lying along the upper layer of moss. The hair-like roots do plunge vertically down giving the appearance of having been under a tap! The Cloudberry coming from a similar environment and often intertwined, is not like this.

During the annual stay at the cottage in the mountains, in addition to my sketchbook and painting materials I had also cut a piece of Perspex to the exact size of my vellum block. I used this to try out samples of my subject to see how they would flow naturally across the picture.

Here you see a thread-like piece of small cranberry plant together with a couple of line drawings from my sketchbook; one drawing is the enlarged section in the trial piece and the other is actual size.

Compare this both with the compositional plan above and the final artwork. The more ways one can look at composition whilst planning a picture, the better will be the result.

I started sketching the small cranberry in August 2018, started work on the final artwork July 2021 and except for scalebars, finished in January 2022. 

The native range of this species is Subarctic to Temp. Northern Hemisphere. It is a subshrub and grows primarily in the temperate biome. This includes Great Britain and Norway.

Kew – Plants of the World Online

Fruit of the Forest liqueur

From Randi and Arne Christian Halseth, Skoppum (thank you)

  • 500 ml Bilberry
  • 50 ml Bog bilberry
  • 150 ml Mountain Crowberry
  • 100 ml Lignonberry
  • 700ml 60% spirit
  • 500 ml sugar.
  1. Put well-ripened berries into a suitable glass and sprinkle with sugar. The berries don’t need to be meticulously cleaned of leaves and tiny stalks. 
  2. Top up with the alcohol. Shake well then refrigerate. 
  3. Turn the jars as often as possible for 4 – 6 weeks.
  4. Strain and pour into bottles. 
  5. Age for a few weeks.
  6. Enjoy

I will start the detail about the Bog bilberry plant in my next blog 14 May 2023

Foraging plants in the norwegian mountains – 15. Small cranberry Pt.1

How rich in different flora a boggy marsh area can be!

When looking for an image suitable for highlighting the small cranberry I came across this one. You can see from the covering of sphagnum moss that this is a boggy area, and although few nutrients has a very rich flora. In fact this photo was taken in the area from which I found several of my chosen species to paint.

This picture was taken in July 2019. The new small cranberry flowers are out but I also found some shrivelled berries from the previous year. You can see clearly both the flowers and the tiny leaves all attached by a very thin stem meandering through the moss. The bog bilberry leaves have a lovely red edge at this time of year and the cloudberry plants show either the red sepals of the male plant or the immature fruit. In this instance the plant we see is obviously male. The mountain crowberry also does well in the same environment.

Vaccinium oxycoccus subsp. microcarpum 

Vaccinium oxycoccus subsp. microcarpum a tiny insignificant looking plant – but an even more exciting find.

In norwegian the plant is called Tranebær, which directly translated means Crane-berry – or as we call it in English – Cranberry. 

Firstly, why Crane-berry? This is a picture of the flower and perhaps you will get a better understanding of why. 

In the USA Cranberries are farmed in huge bogs and this is a significant industry. But the cranberry is slightly different to the one I have painted and is called Vaccinium oxycoccus subsp. macrocarpum. The difference between the two species is that subspecies microcarpum is very tiny and grows wild in the mountains, whereas the subspecies macrocarpum has a much larger berry and leaves. It is generally a larger plant altogether.

As a comparison I thought it might be interesting to show some of my photos from when I was in teaching botanical art in the USA in 2016. My husband and I visited a Cranberry farm south of Boston. It was intriguing, and I learnt quite a bit about the fruit and what happened to it. Note the size of the North American species of farmed berries at 9-14 mm against the small wild cranberry at 5-8 mm.

One of the questions regularly asked at the farm was why the fruit floats. The plants grow in bogs in America and when the fruit is ripe and the area flooded, the plants are shaken mechanically, releasing the loose fruit. The fruit each have four ovaries which are also air pockets, making the berries float to the surface of the water where they are collected. The small cranberry has a similar construction.

We weren’t actually looking for the wild small cranberry when we found it. We were in a very boggy area and tracing roots of a Cloudberrry plant when we found a small, obviously preceding year’s, fruit. We noticed that running through the Sphagnum moss was a tracery of fine hair-like stems with the tiniest of leaves. We started following this until we found a flower. I had no idea what it was so had to find out. 

In 2017 when we first found the plant, I had no idea how widespread it was or if it was a fruit that people foraged for. Since then I found out that very few seem to know of its existence and it is rarely picked to make jams etc – possibly because it is so small. Since then I also noticed I didn’t see either flower or fruit reliably every year. Sometimes we were unable to find any at all, although hunting in areas we had seen it previously. 2021 was just like this perhaps due to the lack of rain for the previous eight months.

In two of the pictures above you can see the previous year’s berry. It was these that alerted us to the plant and we went on to find the flowers.

It is a very boggy area but you can see some of the other plants in the series including bog bilberry flowers and leaves and the Mountain Crowberry. The other plants there in addition to the Sphagnum moss are heather, Andromeda polifolia or Bog rosemary, Vaccinium uliginosum (Bog bilberry), and Empetrum nigrum subsp. hermaphroditum (Mountain Crowberry). 

I painted the Bog Rosemary before I moved back to Norway and this is now in the Chelsea Physic Garden collection. The Bog bilberry and Crowberry are included in this series.

Although the wild small cranberry is not well known, it is certainly a plant with edible fruit and sometimes we found quite a few. It was amazing to see the marsh dotted with small bright red fruit, making it worthwhile to pick for a dessert or decorate a Norwegian cream cake. Uhmm!

The 2nd part about the Small cranberry will be posted 11th May 2023.

Foraging plants in the norwegian mountains – 14. Cloudberry part 2

Rubus chamaemorus – Cloudberry -Multe

Planning the artwork.

The piece of mounted vellum I had ready was 25 x 31 cm and I had seven mounted blocks all the same size. Finished, they needed to look like one series of pictures, but the Cloudberry was a plant so unlike the other ones. The element that linked was the habitat. As an example, I only found the Vaccinium microcarpum when following the rhizomes of the Cloudberry because the roots were completely intertwined.

Once I felt I had all the information I needed for each subject, I scanned the sections and manipulated them with editing software on my computer. I then compared them so that I knew each picture had similar information. The Cloudberry was the only one that was Dioecious. The series was about the fruit, so it was these that were prioritised, although I did include pictures of the flowers. 

Because each cloudberry plant was either male or female and had male or female flowers, I needed to show the differences. The male flower is generally slightly larger than the female and the centre of the flower is completely different. 

The male flower. Stamens in a ring at the base of the sepals. the centre is concave.
The female flower. A ring of false, white stamens around the centre with several pistils arising from the centre.

Both male and female flowers have the same number of sepals and petals, but the male flower has a ring of stamens round the base of the petals, with the very centre dipped and smooth. The female flower displays the gynoecium (female reproductive organs) with a ring of white, false stamens round the base of the petals. 

From a distance and once you know what to look for, it is easy to tell the difference between a lot of male or female plants.

This sketch page shows more cloudberry sketches (with additional ones from the small cranberry). You will find both the deep red male plant and the sketches of the small cranberry in their respective final pieces of artwork.

In 2018 when these sketches were done, the summer had been hot and tough for the plants. The Cloudberries ripened very early and by the time we arrived they were long gone. All that remained were some dry leaves and soggy berry remnants. But the sun had really worked well on leaves in the open, changing them from lush green to orange and fiery reds.

More sketches including the two berries we were given in 2018.

Once I had decided which elements were important for the picture, I did line drawings and moved them around digitally until I felt reasonably satisfied with the arrangement. Of course, in some instances adjustments were necessary and easily done on the computer. The line drawing composition above was almost the last one I made whilst well into the artwork.

In my final artwork I used several sketches as a basis. The sketches are used as a template whilst painting from an actual plant. Having the plant in front of me for the final artwork, enables me to paint its portrait as I see it, getting its botanical detail right at the same time as conveying texture and three-dimensionality. These are all things not easy to do from a photo.

I traced the whole composition to get the placing correct on my mounted vellum block, then each element was traced onto separate pieces of paper.

The vellum needed protection as I worked, and I used one of the old tracings that I had no use for, plus a clear acrylic sheet. All surfaces against the vellum are completely clean.  

Once the image is traced over to the vellum I lifted off much of the loose graphite from the transfer process. I generally start with a pale wash, allowing this to dry completely, then remove the remaining graphite. I continue painting with a dry technique being sure to lay this very lightly.  

Sketching was started in June 2014, the final artwork on vellum started July 2022 and finished in August 2022 except for the scalebars. 

Cloudberries are a circumpolar boreal plant, occurring naturally throughout the Northern Hemisphere including the UK and Norway, although there is little fruit produced in the UK.

Source: Kew – Plants of the World online

Cloudberry cream recipe

This recipe for ‘Mountain Gold’ is served on very special occasions including Christmas. It is served with cakes/biscuits often made in the period leading up to Christmas. Many of the recipes include almonds .

500ml whipping cream 
2 ss sugar
2 ts vanilla sugar (see recipe at end)
300ml Cloudberries

  1. Whip the cream together with the sugar until light and fluffy. 
  2. Stir in Cloudberries and sprinkle with vanilla sugar to taste.
  3. Place in the fridge until serving.

Extra Cloudberries, Shortcake Biscuits


Vanilla sugar (vanilje sukker)

2 Vanilla beans

300gm sugar

  1. Split the vanilla beans in half lengthwise and scrape out the seeds. 
  2. Put the seeds into a blender with the sugar. 
  3. Blend with the blades until the sugar has become completely fine-grained and well mixed. 
  4. Put it into a glass with a lid and add to recipes as needed. 

The next blog post about the Small cranberry will be on the 7th May 2023.

Foraging plants in the norwegian mountains – 13. Cloudberry part 1

Rubus chamaemorus – Cloudberry -Multe

In Norway, Rubus chamaemorus is often referred to as ‘Mountain Gold’ because it doesn’t grow everywhere, it isn’t always easy to find and in some years is quite sparse. It is a delicacy and the one fruit that people would like to find and pick. If anyone finds an area which has a lot of ripe fruit, they normally keep it to themselves for fear of others picking the spot clean. Up until 2003 it was forbidden to pick the unripe fruit; this was changed as it was difficult to enforce. But in northern Norway where it has economic importance, the landowner can forbid picking.

Cloudberry  is considered to be an endangered species (red-listed), it has a long, up to 10 metres, creeping rhizomatous root system and enjoys life best in sphagnum moss bogs. The species is dioecious with each plant either male or female. Although one generally sees the Male plant flowering every year, sometimes the female flowers are very sparse. But in the two last years, there has been a lot, relatively speaking, and if you know where to look!

Unripe, a Cloudberry is red, but as it ripens it becomes gold and it has a very distinctive flavour. Cloudberry is in the same family as Blackberries, so you will know that each drupelet has pips; once accustomed to the taste, one doesn’t mind the pips.

My friends who lent me their cottage when I started the series, pointed out that there were lots of Cloudberry plants round the cottage, but they had never seen any fruit. I had a quick look at the flowers (the two photos) and was able to tell them that they only had male plants in the patch. But only a few metres away there were loads of female plants busily flowering and developing fruit. They were unaware that Cloudberries had distinct male and female plants, so I showed them how to tell the difference.

Obviously, the distinction between male and female plants was one of the things that I needed to show clearly in my final artwork. But in the meantime, I needed to do as many sketches as possible and of course take accurate measurements. In my pleasure at starting properly in 2017, I straightaway forgot the necessities and didn’t take measurements of my dissections. Unbeknown to me I wouldn’t be able to catch up for another five years in 2022! Luckily, this was the only plant where I seemed to chase my tail year after year.

The page of sketches, is a ‘Cloudberry’ poster showing a collection of drawings from my sketchbook.

I was particularly pleased with the plant sketch showing both leaves and very unripe fruit. But, apart from this initial sketch I didn’t see either unripe or ripe fruit until 2018 when I was given two fruit by passing pickers.

I did the trial on the vellum (at the top of the page) in 2021 when I at last found fruit to take back to the cottage. But I still needed flower measurements.

Cloudberry poster put together from several sketch pages.

The pictures below show the area in which we found quite a lot of fruit in 2022.

Actually we were very surprised because we hadn’t had any rain since early autumn 2021 and all the lakes and reservoirs were pretty low. As you can see to the right, the moss was quite burnt on the surface, although there was still water deeper down. The area in which we were able to walk without getting too wet was much larger than the previous year. Global warming!!

The second part about the Cloudberry will be posted 4th May 2023.