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Bearberry

In the days when bears roamed the Caledonian forest, this fruit-bearing perennial would have been a nutritious treat for them. In Northern Europe where it also grows, and bears still live, they have been observed heading for the bearberry bushes after their winter sleep.  It is a mat-forming dwarf-shrub which creeps rather than rises. It grows on dry moorland scattered across the Highlands and Isles. It is rarely seen in the Border and Galloway hills. 

Its reddish woody stems grow limply and branching with evergreen leaves. The leaves are oval with smooth untoothed edges, and a glabrous dark glossy green. They grow alternately up the stems, many leaves to a stem, but quite small – 1 to 3cm long, and leathery in texture.

The flowers grow in nodding racemes at the ends of the stems, up to 10 flowers per cluster. Like other members of the Heather family, they are shaped like tiny amphoras, palest pink with the curled rim a richer rose pink, and 4 to 6mm long. The petals are fused into one tube with 5 shallow lobes discernible at the rim. There are 5 reddish sepals supporting the petal tube.  10 short stamens and a pistil hide inside the amphora.

The fruit is an oblate spheroid, meaning round but slightly squashed like a pumpkin. It is a glossy bright red, similar to Cowberry, and is popular with wildlife but rather tasteless.

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