Friday, July 18, 2008

Cranberry calendar.

Eight out of ten people (plus or minus 3 percent, 19 times out of 20) are surprised to learn that cranberries don’t grow on high bushes, that rather, they grow on ground-hugging, vine-like shrubs.

Cranberries (flowers), July.

Flowers are borne on vertical stems. The petals are reflected backward, exposing the pistil and stamens, giving the appearance of a crane’s bill. Thus craneberry, which mutated to cranberry.

Cranberries, August.

They are a heath, Family Ericaceae, a plant of bogs. The native species in British Columbia is the small or northern cranberry, Vaccinium oxycoccus, also known as Oxycoccus oxycoccus and by other names. (Grr, plant taxonomists.) It grows in bog fragments here in Richmond, but the more commonly encountered species, which can form expansive mats, is the large cranberry, Vaccinium macrocarpon, native to eastern North America. The two species can be found intermixed and are not always easy to tell apart. The small cranberry tends to have narrower, more pointed leaves with curled edges.

Cranberries, September.

Much of Richmond’s historic bog has been converted to cranberry fields. Far from the river, berries are dry-harvested, combed from the vines. Farms nearer the river use a network of dikes and pumps to flood fields about knee-deep at harvest time. The berries are knocked off the vines by machine. They float to the surface and are corralled beside a roadway and pumped into a tanker truck. The millions of floating red berries make for front-page newspaper shots every October.

Cranberries, October.

When I look at an image of ripe cranberries, I am reminded of the cool weather of fall, the darkening days and the first heavy rains. These seem very far off now, in the hot dry middle of summer. We have had less than half a millimetre of rain this month, and none is predicted over the next five days.

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