Flora of the Scots pine forest – The Cowberry
Written by: Stewart Borland
Published: 22nd September 2014
With the arrival of autumn, season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, it’s time again for cowberry season!
Scottish pine forests provide an excellent habitat for the cowberry, variously known as the lingonberry in Scandinavia and the mountain cranberry in North America, it is a distinctive feature of Scottish pinewoods. The cowberry is a low-growing shrub which loves the shade of the pine canopy, and spreads itself over the hummocks, those raised soft mats of vegetation that form over old tree stumps and rocks and which characterize the pine forests of Scotland.
It is an evergreen shrub with small waxy bright green leaves and bell-shaped pinkish white flowers which develop into shiny bright red berries. It has two flowering periods at the beginning and end of summer, and can often be seen with both flowers and berries growing simultaneously.
A host of animals and birds feed on Cowberries, especially the song thrush and blackbird who are unwitting distribution agents for the tiny seeds within. The pinemarten and red squirrel are both fond of berries, as are badgers, mice and voles. The bear would have eaten them too when she was living in the forest. They are edible to humans, if you’re in need of a snack, but beware – they can taste quite sour!