“Your mother was a hamster, and your father smelled of ELDERBERRIES!” – Monty Python
What’s in a name? The Wolf Ridge road, otherwise known as Cranberry Road, has its namesake in the high bush cranberry. Otherwise known as cranberry viburnum, the high bush cranberry has been in full fruiting fabulous-ness the last two weeks. High bush cranberry is in the elderberry family, and a highly attractive 15ft (or so) shrub.
Every Wednesday a selection of Wolf Ridge Naturalists go on a “Green Gals” hike with Joe Walewski, resident botany expert. Last week, we looked at identifying tree species. An easy way to remember trees in Minnesota with an opposite leaf structure is by the acronym “MADHEV,” or Maple/Ash/Dogwood/Honeysuckle/Elderberry/Viburnum. Opposite leaved trees will have simple leaves right across from each other as they protrude from the stem (in contrast to alternating leaves). If you find a tree with opposite leaves in Minnesota, it should be one of the MADHEV species. It could be a viburnum! Although currently most identifiable by its succulent and somewhat translucent red berries, viburnum is one of these opposite leaved plants. Leaves are simple, lobed, and have 3-5 main veins meeting near the base. High bush cranberry usually fruits from September to October.
The berries currently taste like “wet wool socks” according to Joe Walewski. Wait to harvest them until after the first hard frost –they will look a bit withered. After a freeze they are sweeter and can be made into a delicious, bright red syrup (with lots of additional sugar!) Two Wolf Ridge naturalists served some made from the viburnum along Cranberry Road at their wedding over pancakes to rave reviews. The berries are loved and eaten by songbirds, pheasants, and grouse. Some grouse also consume the high bush cranberry after they have gone through multiple frosts and have started to ferment, creating a cranberry alcohol. Sometimes, you can even go up and touch an intoxicated grouse after a robust cranberry feast. Isn’t nature neat?!
– Sarah Bransford and Sonja Smerud