Unusual & Old Fashioned Fruit Trees

Berries Of The Heath Land

Apart from Raspberries and current type berries such as Black Currents, there is a family of berries gaining attention that normally grow wild on acid heath land. They are certainly not trees and some of them are very low growing bushes, but I have included them as they are fully hardy and not, as yet, very popular in the UK.

The most common is the “American Blueberry” of “Blueberry Muffin” and “Blueberry Pie” fame. This is the largest of the 3 heath berries growing into a bush of up to 5 feet high and across and can often be seen on sale in garden centres in the UK.

Although the plant is fully hardy it prefers a sheltered moist spot that is rich in organic matter. As with all the heath berries it needs watering throughout dry spells in the Summer to produce lots of ripe, dark purple, juicy, berries. The berries are all the rage at the moment and are recommended to be included in a healthy diet as they are said to be one of the “Super Fruits.” Packets of imported Blueberries are expensive in the shops to buy, so planting a few bushes, that will produce several pounds of fruit each, is a very tempting prospect. Unfortunately, as with most berries, they will need to be netted to protect them from the birds who love them as much as we do.

A recent introduction to the UK is the "Pink Blueberry." A contradiction in terms, the pink berried plant was promoted heavily in the newspapers in the Summer of 2012. Said to be just as tasty and healthy, the berries were promoted simply to add more colour to a fruit dish, or pie.

A British relative of the Blueberry is the smaller Bilberry, Whortleberry or Blaeberry, which grows wild on heath land such as Cannock Chase in Staffordshire. This low growing plant only reaches about 1 – 2 feet high and is not generally cultivated. The berries have been picked as a natural food of the countryside for centuries and indeed I was introduced to them as a teenager, one afternoon by my brother, on a ramble across the Chase. Much hunting is needed to search out the ripe berries as they are not produced in big bundles on the bushes, but are spread very thinly. Bilberry fruits are smaller than the cultivated American Blueberry, but just as sweet.

The third relative that is now being sold, as fresh or dried berries, in the shops and occasionally as small plants in garden centres, is the Cranberry. Traditionally this somewhat tart berry has been used to make Cranberry Sauce to be served with various meat dishes, but it is also gaining popularity due to some creative thinking of new ways to use it in food preparation such as fruit “Smoothies.” To grow well Cranberries must have very acid soil, more so than the first two berries, and must also be grown in bog type conditions to really flourish. It might be possible to grow them on the edge of a fish pond in the same way as any normal “Marginal Pond Plant” such as water irises and rushes. Alternatively a hole can be dug, lined with a small plastic pool liner and then filled with ericaceous compost (acidic) as is used for Azaleas, Rhododendrons or Hydrangeas.


Cowberries or Lingonberries, as they are often called, come from Scandanavia and as such are another hardy relative of the Blueberry family, but Vaccinium Vitis-idaea, to give them their proper name, are extremely tart and best used cooked in sauces. They grow well in a pot full of ericaceous compost and look a little like Box except they produce a lot of flower.

Huckleberries are another name that is often given to some members of the Vaccinum or Blueberry family. Generally speaking, Huckleberries have less seeds and larger seeds, in their fruit than Blueberries. The Red Huckleberry is the State fruit of Idaho.
















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