Nature Bulletin No. 129 November 1, 1947
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
William N. Erickson, President
Roberts Mann, Supt. of Conservation
most folks, Thanksgiving dinner means roast turkey and cranberry
sauce. The cranberries we use are grown in thousands of acres of bogs
in Massachusetts -- where their culture from wild plants was begun on
Cape Cod in the early 1800' s -- and in New Jersey and Wisconsin.
Cranberries grow in peat bogs where the black peat, formed by
centuries of rotting of aquatic plants, is usually covered with
sphagnum moss. This peat moss, remarkable for its power of
absorbing water, grows in big cushiony beds made up of closely-
packed plants, their lower ends brown and dead, their stems and
feathery leaves pale green. If you jump up and down on such a bog it
quivers and shakes for many yards around. Walking on it is like
walking on a mattress.
The water, 12 inches or more underneath except in rainy periods, is
acid and stained brown from the rotting vegetation, as compared with
lake water, river water and surface run-off water, which are alkaline.
Cranberries cannot stand drought, nor alkaline water, nor much
competition from other larger plants. They are subject to many insect
pests. Therefore, cranberry bogs are flooded occasionally, usually in
winter, to drown such insects and aquatic "weeds".
The cranberry used to be called "craneberry" because the flower bud,
on its curved slender stem, looks like the head, beak and neck of a
crane. The plant is a low trailing shrub of the same family as the
blueberry. The long stems lie flat, taking root at intervals, and send up
erect short branches which are lined on each side with a row of small
dark-green leaves. These branches bear the small pinkish flowers and,
later, the berries which turn red in late summer or early autumn. They
are sour even when ripe.
Last year we found a bog in the Palos forest preserves which had a
small patch of wild cranberries, probably the only existing remnant of
the cranberry bogs formerly found in northern Illinois.
Try cranberry relish: one-half pound of berries ground raw with an
orange, peeling and all, sweetened with one cup of sugar.
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Update: June 2012