Thankful for Cranberries - Indiana Yard and Garden - Purdue Consumer Horticulture

Thankful for Cranberries

Although the cranberry is native to the northeastern United States, it requires a rather unique acid bog habitat, which restricts its commercial production to just a few states. The ideal soil pH is 4.0-5.5, quite acidic compared to other horticulture crops. A large supply of fresh water and sand is also required.

Cranberries belong to the family Ericaceae and are related to rhododendron, blueberry and heather. Known botanically as Vaccinium macrocarpon , cranberries grow on a trailing, evergreen vine. The common name of cranberry comes from crane berry, so named because the flower is said to resemble the head and neck of a sandhill crane.

Because cranberries initiate flower buds in late summer, the plants need protection for the buds to survive. Thus, cranberry vines are flooded and layered with sand during the winter months to protect them from the cold. In spring, the bogs are drained. The plants flower in late spring and early summer on short, vertical shoots called uprights. The forthcoming fruit take the rest of the growing season to ripen.

Cranberries are harvested in September and October by one of two methods. Most are harvested via a “wet” method, where growers flood the plants and loosen the fruit by machine. The fruit then floats to the top. Most of these berries are used for processing. Some fruits are harvested for fresh market via a “dry” method, using mechanical comb-like pickers.

In addition to being a source of vitamins C and A, potassium and fiber, cranberries have other nutritional benefit. They are also being linked to cardiovascular and urinary tract health and prevention of dental plaque, cancer and ulcers.

Uncle Sam estimates that 649 million pounds of cranberries will be produced in the United States this year, up 5 percent from 2004. Wisconsin is expected to be the leader in the cranberry harvest, with 367 million pounds, followed by Massachusetts with170 million. Oregon, New Jersey and Washington are the other major cranberry players.


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