Crowberry (Empetrum nigrum) is a low, sprawling shrub, reaching a maximum of 30 cm in height. It can be found in upland areas in north and west England, and across Wales and Scotland.
• The plant bears needle-like leaves on reddish-brown stems. A distinctive feature is the white 'stripe' seen on the reserve of the leaf.
• Flowers are small and purple and can usually be seen between April and May
• Fruit are a shiny, blueberry-like drupe (stone fruit) , usually seen between May and October (they may remain until December)
Crowberry is part of the heather family (Ericaceae) and is evergreen. The range of crowberry in the UK is moving northward, potentially a result of increasing mean winter temperatures. At the southern end of its range crowberry has exhibited advanced phenology and a growth season extended by up to 75 days.
Crowberry is an important food source for both grouse and other bird species. Berries can be consumed by humans but flavour is said to improve after cooking. They are harvested in Scandinavia on a large scale. The leaves and stems have been used as traditional medicines by some arctic tribes, while the berries have traditionally been used to dye fabrics in the Shetland Isles.
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Illustration (c) Chris Shields