Arctostaphylos uva-ursi or the common English name of bearberry and norwegian name of melbær.
The Norwegian name, when translated, literally and aptly describes the melbær, flour-berry. The berries are edible, dry, tasteless, and floury. But they are considered an important ‘survival food’ and eaten in sauces by some northern indigenous people with fish, venison, elk and bear.
When describing another plant in this series, Vaccinium vitis-idaea (cowberry/lingonberry), I mentioned that these two plants were the main reason that I wanted to do research and illustrate this series of plants. I wanted to show how they can be distinguished so that both can be used and enjoyed. Getting things wrong – mistaking one fruit for the other – is not dangerous, but it can spoil the effect of a recipe intended for Lingonberries.
Both plants have leathery leaves as well as similar fruit and flowers and although they can grow in the same habitat, the bearberry does better in drier surroundings. In the last blog I showed the back of the Lingonberry leaf which is more oval-shaped, but now I will show you the back of the bearberry leaf which is paddle-shaped.
The photo of the Bearberry leaf was taken in September when the tiny flower buds start to appear – establishing themselves before the snow appears so they can make an early start as soon as it is gone.
As you see, the Vaccinium vitis-ideae – lingonberry leaf has small dots on the underside, whereas the bearberry Arctostaphylos uva-ursi leaf has a fine network of veins.
The bearberry is not a member of the Vaccinium Genus, but is part of the Arctostaphylos Genus. However they are both part of the Ericaceae (heather) family. This means that in both species the flowers are typically heather-like, although the bearberry flowers are more urn-shaped and the lingonberry flower is bell-like .
The rhizomes of the bearberry lie prostrate down rock walls or across the sandy forest floor, whereas those of the lingonberry sit deeper in the humus.
Both plants have clusters of red fruit, but the Bearberry fruit has a slightly flatter spherical form than that of the Lingonberry. Most importantly the Bearberry has a superior ovary (the gynoecium – [female reproductive part] is above the attachment point of the floral whorls [petals etc]), meaning that the remaining sepals are at the top of the hanging fruit, nearest the pedicel (stalk). The opposite is true of the Lingonberry where the remains of the sepals are at the bottom of the hanging fruit, distal to the pedicel.
This is a photo of the longitudinal section (LS) of one flower. It clearly shows that it has a superior ovary.
The second blog about the Bearberry species is scheduled for 11 June 2023. That will be the last blog about the series, although I will show the completed pictures on 15th June.
The reason for even thinking of doing a series of plants like this was because of this plant – Vaccinium vitis idaea (Lingonberry/Cowberry) and the next plant in this blog series Arctostaphylos uva-ursi (Bearberry). They are fairly similar and their habitats cross over into each other’s. So unless you know what you are looking for you can easily make a mistake.
It isn’t a ‘dangerous’ mistake to make, but it can spoil a recipe!
Above is a photo of the Lingonberry in its typical habitat. Both species have leathery leaves as well as similar flowers and fruit. But the Bearberry prefers even drier surroundings than the Lingonberry.
The Lingonberry leaves are oval as you see above, whereas the Bearberry leaves are paddle-shaped; The Lingonberry leaves have small dots on the underside, whereas the Bearberry leaves are finely veined; Both sets of flowers are typically Heather-like, but the Lingonberry flower is bell-shaped and the Bearberry flowers are more urn-shaped. The rhizomes of the Lingonberry sit deeper in the humus than the Bearberry, which are prostrate and limply creep across a surface.
The fruit for both plants are in clusters, but the Bearberry fruit has a slightly flatter spherical shape than that of the Lingonberry. Most importantly the Lingonberry has an inferior ovary (the flower parts arise above the ovary), meaning that the remains of the sepals are at the bottom of the hanging fruit, distal to the pedicel (stalk). The opposite is true of the Bearberry where the calyx (sepals) remain on the fruit around the pedicel.
If you look at the painted berry at the beginning of the last blog when I started discussing the species, you can see the remnants of the sepals. Compare it with these three pictures showing the development of the flower and swelling of the ovary in its inferior position.
At the end of the previous blog I showed you some of the sketches I did from various Lingonberry plants. Here you see additional ones and you may notice that they were part of the basis for my final artwork.
Below you see my first compositional plan for the Lingonberry picture, but I didn’t really like it. I suppose in this plan I wanted to avoid painting so many small, but detailed leaves. As you now know they have several diagnostic elements to them, but at the same time are quite shiny. The composition just didn’t give me the right ‘feeling’ of the plant.
One weekend I had been out picking fruit with my daughter and we were discussing the way the plants grew and the impression they gave. We again looked at my planned composition and she suggested I replace the flower on the stem with a fruit cluster.
That was the answer – the series emphasis was about the fruit. I decided to do a trial on vellum of the new piece of stem with the berries and this became the basis for the final composition.
My first sketches of this plant were done in March 2017, but I didn’t start painting the final picture until October 2022 (after harvesting), finishing December 2022. Because this plant is not deciduous, it allowed me to work on the leaves right up until the first fall of snow.
The native range of this species is Subarctic & Temp. Northern Hemisphere including the UK and Norway. It is a subshrub and grows primarily in the temperate biome.
Source: Kew – Plants if the World Online
The species in my next blog scheduled for 8 June 2023 is the Bearberry, favoured by bears when they wake up from their hibernation – or so I am told.
Eva’s Raw LingonberryJam
Blend together the berries and the sugar until berries well macerated. If possible let it stand for few hours in the fridge before being used.
Eva Biringvad gave me this recipe and sent me on a ‘no-return’ journey. Her father made the most delicious bread, so we ate chunks of his bread with sour cream and the raw lingonberry on top. Delicious!
This is also used with meals instead of Cranberry sauce – and it is much nicer.
Vaccinium vitis-idaea, or cowberry, the common english name and tyttebær the Norwegian name is more commonly known as lingonberry if you visit Ikea. It forms the sharpish berry sauce you get with your meatballs!
In fact, there are several ways you can eat the fruit and one of the recipes I will be sharing with you is one where the raw fruit is whipped with sugar – it is absolutely delicious – especially on lovely bread with sour cream!! A friend introduced me to this bad/delicious habit, but I have learnt to restrict myself!
I am glad that we picked quite a bit of fruit this last year and it is safely kept cleaned and ready for use in the freezer. Like the Bilberry, I use it in all sorts of recipes, sometimes even together.
Many will think that the Lingonberry is similar to the small cranberry and in many respects it is. They are both Vacciniums, similar in size; 5- 8mm, but the lingonberry is almost completely spherical whilst the cranberry has a very slightly elongated spherical shape.
Because the Lingonberry and Cranberry prefer completely different habitats, there is little risk of picking from the two species at the same time. But, both can be used in the same way and for similar recipes.
The Lingonberry is generally found on heathland and shrubby areas, but as discussed in my blog released 7 May, the Small cranberry grows in very boggy areas covered with sphagnum moss.
The next two picture were taken late September at 1100 metres over sea level. The red berries are
the Lingonberry and you can see that as they hang in bunches they are easy enough to pick. Unlike the bilberry (the red/yellow leaves), the fruit is pretty solid and bullet-like making them even easier to pick that that species. In the same picture is the Mountain Crowberry with their black berries, heather and some very short birch.
We are lucky enough to have some Lingonberry also growing in our garden, but in the two years we have been here I haven’t seen any fruit. Possibly this is because the plants are in shade and it has been very dry since we have been here, and our house is on rock. Therefore, with climate change even the native plants suffer. There is more fruit as one walks from our house into the protection of the woods. Often it grows on the top of extinct anthills, indicating how the seeds were transported.
The Vaccinium vitis-idaea (Cowberry) and the Arctostaphylos uva-ursi ( Bearberry) are, in fact, the main reason that I thought to do this series of plants. I have already written about the similarity between the Vaccinium myrtillus (Bilberry ) and the Vaccinium uliginosum (Bog bilberry), and in that case mixing the one with the other won’t spoil a recipe. But because the Cowberry and Bearberry are so similar, mistakes can be made and although both edible, Bearberry is dry and tasteless and has large stones rather than small seeds.
I will talk about the Bearberry as the last plant in this series. But the second section about the Lingonberry is scheduled for 6 June 2023.
This is the main double page for my sketches done on the Bilberry plant. I try to keep as much information as possible together so that when I do my final work I don’t have to search too much in the sketchbook. I try to find a hole on the relevant page to add things, either more sketches or research I might have done. I often find that when I am researching on the internet, the gaps are usually left along the bottom edge of the page, so I frequently use this area to write any notes.
As I have already mentioned in the previous blog, there is a similarity in the fruit of the Bilberry and the Bog bilberry, but the stems are very different for starters. The Bilberry stems are very angular and last year’s branches remain green over winter and into the next season. The deer seem to like them and paw away the snow eating the shoots. The Bog bilberry stems are brown and woody; I talked more about this plant in the blogs published 14th and 18th May.
By the middle of 2020 I felt that I had enough sketches for most of my final pictures and had already decided to stop the extended period of ‘productive procrastination’. We were in the middle of the pandemic and for most people, the world had turned upside down. My daughter, living in Norway, felt we were too old to live on our own any longer and she was too far away should anything happen to us.
The decision to move back to Norway was thought about and made quite quickly. I think we started talking about it mid June and sold our home with the large beautiful garden and the ‘shed’ – my studio, quite quickly.
The actual move came in August 2020. I had planned all my compositions before leaving the UK and when we arrived in Norway I was all set to start painting the final artwork.
I won’t talk about all the problems moving during a pandemic caused – we were lucky to be completely healthy. But some of the benefits from moving back to the country I loved included being much nearer to the plants in my series. There were lots of others, but I leave that to your imagination.
In between looking for a new home and sorting out all the official stuff and additional problems caused by Brexit, I started working towards doing the first picture. Of course, it had to be the Bilberry. This plant also grows at sea level and was easy to access now.
I only had to walk up into the woods behind my daughters house where we stayed until we finally moved. There were lots of native plants along the tracks, including loads of Bilberry. In our new home, to which we moved in January 2021 when the area was ensconced in snow, we eventually found it contained a lot of Bilberry plants. Heaven or what!?
I started with a trial piece of Bilberry parts on vellum and began the final artwork in June 2021, finishing March 2022.
You can see my work station in our new home below. As is perhaps obvious, I continued to procrastinate a little longer as I just had to do more sketches. Working on the vellum off-cut was extremely useful as I also tried out various methods of introducing graphite. Getting the colours right for the bloom of the nearly black fruit whilst I had them was also important. Painting this on paper had been a completely different kettle of fish!
Making sure that I had samples from all the plants in the series at the right time of year was like putting together a puzzle. The flower sections had to be done in the spring and the fruit at various times over the autumn. Leaves also changed through the seasons.
But basically, I knew that I had roughly six months of the year to paint the deciduous plants (Bilberry, Bog Bilberry, Cloudberry) and those I didn’t have access to under the snow such as the Cranberry. For the remaining plants I would be able to get leaves throughout the year as long as they weren’t hidden too deeply under the snow. It became a matter of planning and making sure I knew where relevant plants were over the winter.
The native range of this Vaccinium myrtillus is Greenland, Temp. Eurasia, W. Canada to NW. & W. Central U.S.A. It is a subshrub and grows primarily in the temperate biome. Including both Norway and the UK.
Source: Kew Plants of the World Online
Mor Astrid’s (my lovely grandmother-in-law) Raw Bilberry squash
3 l Bilberries
2.5 l water
75 gm Cream of Tartar
4.5 kg sugar
Rinse through the berries to clean of soil. They don’t need to be thoroughly cleaned of leaves and small stalks.
Bruise/crush berries in a plastic bucket and leave for 24 hrs.
Mix the Cream of Tartar into the water and add to the berries. Stir thoroughly.
Let the mixture stand for 24 hrs.
Strain through a muslin.
Add the sugar to the strained fluid.
Stir thoroughly until the sugar has melted in.
Pour into bottles.
The resulting squash can be mixed with water. It is DELICIOUS.
Keep out of easy reach of children or it will be finished off in no time!!
A suggestion from Polly o’Leary after the Bilberry part 1 blog. Thank you Polly.
In this part of Wales theyre called Whinberries. We used to make them into whinberry and apple pie, or whinberry jam. Or both. Depending on how many we found. No recipes, except the usual – plain shortcrust pastry, not too much sugar, because they’re lovely and tart. Same with the jam. Never really thought about a recipe, just made it the usual way as they were such a treat.
This came from Jane Hogan following the Bilberry part 1 blog. Thank you Jane
We used to pick bilberries on the North Yorkshire moors when visiting my grandmother. She used to line a pie dish with pastry, pile in the bilberries with sugar and top with another layer of pastry. Served with custard or cream and eaten hot. There wasn’t usually any left to have cold! It used to take ages to pick the bilberries. (A quick look online suggests a pound of bilberries and four ounces of sugar)
On 4 June 2023 I will publish the first part of the Lingonberry blog.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Soak the gelatine sheets for 5-10 minutes.
Pour off most of the water and dissolve them in a small amount of warm water.
Mix the cold Mountain crowberry juice, lemon juice and water.
Whilst continuously stirring, slowly and carefully pour the juice mixture into the melted gelatine.
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
Rinse and crush the berries well.
Put the berry pulp in a large bowl or bucket, and add pre-boiled, cold water and citric acid.
Leave the mixture covered and chilled overnight.
Pour the mass into a strainer and let the juice drain well.
Measure the amount of juice and add sugar.
Stir well until all the sugar has dissolved.
Skim and pour it into clean bottles/containers.
Can be mixed to taste with water – or something else.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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 muffinsRecipe
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.
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 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.
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.
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!