1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Cranberry

CRANBERRY, the fruit of plants of the genus Oxycoccus, (natural order Vacciniaceae), often considered part of the genus Vaccinium. O. palustris (or Vaccinium Oxycoccus), the common cranberry plant, is found in marshy land in northern and central Europe and North America. Its stems are wiry, creeping and of varying length; the leaves are evergreen, dark and shining above, glaucous below, revolute at the margin, ovate, lanceolate or elliptical in shape, and not more than half an inch long; the flowers, which appear in May or June, are small and stalked, and have a four-lobed, rose-tinted corolla, purplish filaments, and anther-cells forming two long tubes. The berries ripen in August and September; they are pear-shaped and about the size of currants, are crimson in colour and often spotted, and have an acid and astringent taste. The American species, O. macrocarpus, is found wild from Maine to the Carolinas. It attains a greater size than O. palustris, and bears bigger and finer berries, which are of three principal sorts, the cherry or round, the bugle or oblong, and the pear or bell-shaped, and vary in hue from light pink to dark purple, or may be mottled red and white. O. erythrocarpus is a species indigenous in the mountains from Virginia to Georgia, and is remarkable for the excellent flavour of its berry.

Air and moisture are the chief requisites for the thriving of the cranberry plant. It is cultivated in America on a soil of peat or vegetable mould, free from loam and clay, and cleared of turf, and having a surface layer of clean sand. The sand, which needs renewal every two or three years, is necessary for the vigorous existence of the plants, and serves both to keep the underlying soil cool and damp, and to check the growth of grass and weeds. The ground must be thoroughly drained, and should be provided with a supply of water and a dam for flooding the plants during winter to protect them from frost, and occasionally at other seasons to destroy insect pests; but the use of spring water should be avoided. The flavour of the fruit is found to be improved by growing the plants in a soil enriched with well-rotted dung, and by supplying them with less moisture than they obtain in their natural habitats. Propagation is effected by means of cuttings, of which the wood should be wiry in texture, and the leaves of a greenish-brown colour. In America, where, in the vicinity of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, the cultivation of the cranberry commenced early in the last century, wide tracts of waste land have been utilized for that purpose—low, easily flooded, marshy ground, worth originally not more than from $10 to $20 an acre, having been made to yield annually $200 or $300 worth of the fruit per acre. The yield varies between 50 and 400 bushels an acre, but 100 bushels, or about 35 barrels, is estimated to be the average production when the plants have begun to bear well. The approximate cranberry crop of the United States from 1890 to 1899 varied from 410,000 to 1,000,000 bushels.

Cranberries should be gathered when ripe and dry, otherwise they do not keep well. The darkest-coloured berries are those which are most esteemed. The picking of the fruit begins in New Jersey in October, at the close of the blackberry and whortleberry season, and often lasts until the coming in of cold weather. From 3 to 4 bushels a day may be collected by good workers. New York, Philadelphia, Boston and Baltimore are the leading American markets for cranberries, whence they are exported to the West Indies, England and France in great quantities. England was formerly supplied by Lincolnshire and Norfolk with abundance of the common cranberry, which it now largely imports from Sweden and Russia. The fruit is much used for pies and tarts, and also for making an acid summer beverage. The cowberry, or red whortleberry, Vaccinium Vitis-Idaea, is sometimes sold for the cranberry. The Tasmanian and the Australian cranberries are the produce respectively of Astroloma humifusum and Lissanthe sapida, plants of the order Epacridaceae.

For literature of the subject see the Proceedings of the American Cranberry Growers’ Association (Trenton, N. J.). There is a good article on the American cranberry in L. H. Bailey’s Cyclopaedia of American Horticulture (1900).