Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Illinois
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Nature Bulletin No. 129   November 1, 1947
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
William N. Erickson, President
Roberts Mann, Supt. of Conservation

For 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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