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Kevin Doyle

Mountain Cranberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea)

Life history

Species overview

Mountain Cranberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea), a Wisconsin Endangered plant, is found on mossy cliffs along Lake Superior and in conifer swamps inland. Blooming occurs early May through late June; fruiting occurs late July through early September. This species can be identified year-round.

Synonyms: Vaccinium vitis-idaea ssp. minus, Vaccinium vitis-idaea var. minus, Vaccinium vitis-idaea var. punctatum


  • Distinguishing characteristics: Few flowers in small terminal clusters,4-lobed nearly to the middle.
  • Flower characteristics: Few, in small terminal clusters, each on a short, glandular pedicel axillary to a bud scale; corolla bell-shaped, 5 to 7 mm; petals 4-lobed nearly to the middle.
  • Fruit characteristics: Red, edible, nearly 1 cm.
  • Leaf characteristics: Leathery, evergreen, subsessile, elliptic to oblong, 8 to 18 mm, rounded at both ends, sparsely dotted with erect black glands beneath.


  • Blooming phenology: early May through late June
  • Fruiting phenology: late July through early September
  • Optimum time to identify: This species can be identified year-round


  • Growth form: Shrub
  • Vegetative reproduction:
  • Life cycle: Perennial
  • Comments: Associated Species: Picea mariana, Abies balsamea, Betula papyrifera, Sorbus decora, Thuja occidentalis, Ledum groenlandicum, Linnaea borealis, Alnus viridis, Cornus stolonifera, Vaccinium angustifolium, V. oxycoccos, Gaultheria hispidula.

State status

Status and Natural Heritage Inventory documented occurrences in Wisconsin

The table below provides information about the protected status - state and federal - and the rank (S and G Ranks) for Mountain Cranberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea). See the Working List Key for more information about abbreviations. Counties shaded blue have documented occurrences for this species in the Wisconsin Natural Heritage Inventory database. The map is provided as a general reference of where this species has been found to date and is not meant as a range map.

Documented locations of Vaccinium vitis-idaea in the Natural Heritage Inventory Database as of July 2015.

Summary Information
State StatusEND
Federal Status in Wisconsinnone
State RankS1S2
Global RankG5
Tracked by NHIY

Habitats and landscapes

The Natural Heritage Inventory has developed scores indicating the degree to which each of Wisconsin's rare plant species is associated with a particular natural community or ecological landscape. This information is similar to that found in the Wildlife Action Plan for animals. As this is a work in progress, we welcome your suggestions and feedback.

General habitat information

  • Habitat description: Found on mossy cliffs along Lake Superior and in conifer swamps inland.
  • Soils: Acidic, loamy soils

Natural communities

This table lists the natural communities that are associated with Mountain Cranberry. Scores for natural community associations are: "significant" association (score=3), "moderate association" (score=2) or the species can be present but is only weakly associated with the community (score=1).

Ecological landscapes

This table lists the ecological landscape association scores for Mountain Cranberry. The scores (3=High, 2=Moderate, 1=Low, 0=None) also correspond to the map.

Map of the Ecological Landscapes of Wisconsin.

Species guidance

The Endangered Resources Program has developed avoidance measures and management guidelines for plants on the Natural Heritage Working List. These are a work in progress, and we welcome your suggestions and feedback. Sources used in developing this information can be found here.

Avoidance measures

These are specific actions designed to avoid "take" (mortality) of this species.

  • Avoid site preparation that heavily disturbs herbaceous ground layer and soil; these include bulldozing and furrowing, as well as grubbing and stump removal.
  • Avoid known individual plant locations and conduct operations elsewhere when they are least likely to cause damage. Ideally, this would involve frozen, snow-covered ground. However, in areas of the state where frozen conditions are unreliable, very dry soils late in the growing season might be the best available alternative. Consult with a biologist, if needed.
  • Avoid broadcast spraying of herbicides; use care with spot spraying.

Management guidance

Management guidelines are additional considerations that may help maintain or enhance habitat for this species

  • Prescribed burns and/or brushing may be beneficial (dependent on local site conditions).
  • Maintain and restore open habitat through selective clearing and brushing.
  • Minimize disturbance to hydrology, including soil disturbance from rutting.


Mountain Cranberry Photo.

Compare the leaves of mountain cranberry (left) with those of large cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon; right). Mountain cranberry are noticeable larger and less whitened underneath.

Photo by Kevin Doyle, Wisconsin DNR.

Mountain Cranberry Photo.

Photo by Kevin Doyle, Wisconsin DNR.

Mountain Cranberry Photo.

Photo © John Kohout.

Mountain Cranberry Photo.

Photo by  staff, Wisconsin DNR.

Mountain Cranberry Photo.

Mountain cranberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea ssp. minus).

Photo © Kitty Kohout.

Support for Wisconsin's rare plant information has been provided by the Division of Forestry, the Endangered Resources Fund and the Wisconsin Rare Plant Preservation Fund. To donate, visit the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin [exit DNR].

Last revised: Wednesday, May 05, 2021
Southwest Savanna Southern Lake Michigan Coastal Western Coulees and Ridges Southeast Glacial Plains Central Sand Hills Central Lake Michigan Coastal Central Sand Plains Northern Lake Michigan Coastal Northern Lake Michigan Coastal Northeast Sands Western Prairie North Central Forest Northern Highlands Northwest Lowlands Northwest Sands Northwest Lowlands Superior Coastal Plains Forest Transition