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a berry commonly harvested during a flood

The cranberry is an edible red berry that grows on a perennial, woody, trailing vine. It has small, oval, evergreen leaves and tiny pink flowers. Its fruits, the cranberries, may be round or oblong, depending on the variety. They grow on small, slender stems. The plant is called cranberry, or craneberry, because the slender stems of the fruit curve like the neck of a crane.

cranberry berries

cranberry plants

Native Americans have eaten cranberries for centuries. The first commercial cranberry farm was established by Revolutionary War veteran Henry Hall, in Dennis, Massachusetts, in 1816. Today, New Jersey and Massachusetts are the largest producers of cranberries, followed by Oregon, Washington, and Wisconsin; the Canadian provinces of British Columbia and Quebec are also major producers. The European cranberry is grown in central Europe, Finland, and Germany.


Cranberries grow best in beds layered with sand, peat and gravel near wetlands. The most fertile beds were formed as the result of glacial deposits tens of thousands of years ago. Growers prepare cranberry beds (bogs) by clearing them of all wild growth and then spreading an inch or two of sand over the area. Like most other berries, cranberry vines are grown from cuttings five to ten inches long, spaced about 18 inches apart. Once established, cranberry vines can survive and produce for decades, with many vines on Cape Cod still producing fruit after more than 150 years.

The growing season typically begins in April and ends in late-September or early-October, depending on region. Since cranberries cannot pollinate themselves, growers bring in honey bees to carry pollen from plant to plant, thus fertilizing the flowers and spurring berry production.

Harvest typically begins in late-September. The most commonly used method involves flooding the bog with up to 18 inches of water the day before harvest is to begin. A special harvester commonly called an "eggbeater" is then ridden/floated across the bog; the harvester has special wheels that loosen the berries from the vines. A tiny pocket of air inside each berry causes it to float to the surface, allowing the harvesters to "corrall" the fruit into a corner of the bog, from where it is pumped onto special trucks. Cranberry sauces and drinks are made from cranberries harvested in this manner. Cranberries meant to be sold whole are dry harvested using a mechanized picking machine that somewhat resembles a lawnmower.

harvesting cranberries

Nutritional and Health Benefits

Cranberries are high in antioxidants and other compounds proven beneficial in the prevention and treatment of urinary tract infections. There is also some evidence that a combination of compounds found in cranberries provides some protection against digestive ailments and some forms of cancer. A half cup of cranberries also provides 11% of the RDA of vitamin C, 9.2% fiber, 9% manganese, 3.1% vitamin K, and 3% vitamin E, while only contributing 23 calories to a healthy diet.

Scientific Classification

family Ericaceae (heaths)
genus & species
Vaccinium macrocarpon (American cranberry)
V. oxycoccus (European cranberry)

The Cranberry Institute

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The Robinson Library >> Fruit and Fruit Culture

This page was last updated on 07/08/2018.