Bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus) is a low growing shrub which can reach up to 30 cm height. It can be found in the north and west of the UK on well-drained heaths and moorland - especially in upland areas - and hummocks in peat bogs. Bilberry plants are deciduous - they lose their leaves in winter.
Bilberry plants on exposed sites are predicted to decline due to decreased protection from low winter temperatures provided by the snow layer. Bilberry in woodland areas are expected to benefit from an extended growing season. The timing of both flowering and fruiting bilberry is important for pollinators such as bumblebees, and fruit eating birds such as ring ouzel.
• Leaves are oval with finely toothed margins
• Flowers are greenish when they first appear, turning pink, and hang singly below new stems, usually appearing between April and June
• Fruits resemble small blueberries and can be found between July and September
The key phenological events in bilberry are: Leafing, flowering (previously recorded between April and June), fruiting (previously recorded between July and September) and leaf fall.
Bilberry goes by many other common names including whortleberry, winberry and blaeberry in Scotland. Of all the berries on the moors, bilberries are the most often consumed by people in the UK, and they are closely related to the American blueberry.
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Illustration (c) Chris Shields