Cranberries are a holiday staple. Fresh or canned, the choice is yours. But where do they come from?
The cranberry on your table is most likely the American cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon), a short trailing evergreen shrub native. The species is native to northeastern/northcentral North America. They are grown commercially in human-made ponds (often called cranberry bogs) that are well irrigated. They are harvested in two ways. If the fruit is used for juices, sauces, or dried, the ponds are flooded in the fall for harvesting (the fruit floats). For use as fresh cranberries, the fruit is harvest dry.
Look carefully in the fall diorama of a bog in northwestern Pennsylvania in the Hall of Botany to see cranberries as they’d appear in the wild.
Check out this cool specimen of cranberry, collected by Millie Turner in 1926 between Saxonburg and Freeport, Pennsylvania near Cypher farm. Cypher farm still exists today, operated by the same family for over 100 years.
What is especially neat about this specimen is a note attached that reads “…80 ten quart pails of these berries were picked at one time from this bog.”
Now that’s a lot of cranberry sauce!
Check back for more! Botanists at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History share digital specimens from the herbarium on dates they were collected. They are in the midst of a three-year project to digitize nearly 190,000 plant specimens collected in the region, making images and other data publicly available online. This effort is part of the Mid-Atlantic Megalopolis Project (mamdigitization.org), a network of thirteen herbaria spanning the densely populated urban corridor from Washington, D.C. to New York City to achieve a greater understanding of our urban areas, including the unique industrial and environmental history of the greater Pittsburgh region. This project is made possible by the National Science Foundation under grant no. 1801022.
Mason Heberling is Assistant Curator of Botany at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. Museum employees are encouraged to blog about their unique experiences and knowledge gained from working at the museum.