The name “cranberry” is believed to come from the resemblance of the berry’s blossom to the head of a crane. The bright red, glossy, tart berries have also been known as cowberries, mossberries, foxberries, lingonberries, and bounceberries (because ripened berries will bounce due to air pockets in the fruit).
Indigenous to the United States, cranberries were a pivotal part of Native American diets and lauded for both their nutritional and medicinal qualities by several tribes. By mashing the berries and mixing them with venison, Native Americans made pemmican, valued for its alimentary value and ability to keep for long periods of time. Today, cranberries are consumed fresh or dried in salads, snacks, syrups, and beverages, and as the popular holiday dish, cranberry sauce.
References: Agricultural Marketing Resource Center, Cranberry Institute, Cranberry Marketing Committee, Wisconsin Cranberry Board, Inc.
TYPES, VARIETIES & CUTS
Cranberries (Vaccinium macrocarpon) are native to the northeastern United States. Part of the wide ranging Ericaceae family, which includes both flowering plant species and blueberries, they are a woody perennial divided into two principal types: North American and European.
Commercial production in the United States comes predominantly from Wisconsin (where cranberries are the official state fruit), Massachusetts (where the first commercial cultivation occurred), New Jersey, Oregon, and Washington, though Michigan, Minnesota, New York, and Rhode Island also grow the fruit.
In Canada, where the fruit is native to its Atlantic provinces and was called ‘marsh apples,’ both British Columbia and Quebec are major commercial producers.
There are more than 100 cranberry varieties, including Alfredo Compact, Baily Compact, Ben Lear, Bergman, Compactum, Crowley, Early Black, Howes, McFarlin, Pilgrim, Redwing, Searles, Stevens, and Wentworth.
References: Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Cranberry Institute, Cranberry Marketing Committee, University of Maine Cooperative Extension, University of Massachusetts Cooperative Extension, University of Minnesota Extension.
PESTS & DISEASE
The cranberry fruitworm is one of the most destructive and most common pests. The eggs are often laid on unripe, green berries. The fruitworm is most damaging once hatched, often feeding from July to September and hollowing out anywhere from three to eight berries. The berries will exhibit a deflated, wrinkly, brownish appearance rather like a raisin. The use of both timed sprayings and late water can help with prevention.
Cranberry weevils affect cranberries as well as blueberries, huckleberries, dangleberries, and chokeberries. They can be particularly hard to detect and can ‘play dead’ by pulling in their legs and falling to the ground for periods of time. A single female weevil can lay up to 50 eggs and the resulting larvae will typically consume the flower on which they were hatched before pupating. Unfortunately, weevils have developed resistance to a number of insecticides; though water methods can be effective, they risk damaging the crop.
Cranberries are also susceptible to a host of worms (from tipworms and armyworms to fireworms and blossomworms) as well as gypsy moths and flea beetles.
Upright dieback can be caused by fungi and infect a few runners to all plants in a given area. The disease is typically caused by weather-related stress and emerges after the winter flood is withdrawn, in late June or early July, or towards the end of the season in late August and September. Fungicide applications, early in the season, may help.
Fruit rot, including black rot, ripe rot, bitter rot, end rot, viscid rot, root rot, early rot, and blotch rot, is one of the most common diseases affecting cranberries. It is a common result of weather but can also be caused by density of vine growth and poor drainage. The fungi are often spread by the wind in spore form, though fungicide sprays can help thwart development.
Other diseases that can damage cranberries are fairy ring, blight, red leaf spot, cottonball, and berry speckle.
References: University of Maine Extension, University of Massachusetts Extension, Wisconsin Cranberry Board, Inc.