Empetrum nigrum, commonly known as black crowberry, is a fruit growing shrub that occurs in many locations of the northern hemisphere. The plant is used for its medicinal benefits and the fruits are consumed either raw or cooked.
Table Of Content
Empetrum nigrum is the scientific name for the black crowberry plant.
Empetrum nigrum Description
Stem and Branches: Empetrum nigrum is a low stooped, creeping evergreen shrub with short, leafy branches. The branches have glands. The plant reaches an average height of 15 centimeters (6 inches). The branches are up to 40 centimeters in length. These plants are often in the form of dense mats.
Leaves: The leaves are dark green in color and can be either linear or elliptic. The leaves are ericoid and are around 4 to 8 mm long. The lower surfaces of the leaves are adapted in such a way so as to minimize evapotranspiration in difficult climates. A marked feature of the leaves is that they have revolute margins which give them a needle-like or tubular appearance. Whorl-like pattern of four leaves are arranged along the strong, prostrate stems.
Flowers: Flowers bloom from May to June. The flowers are bisexual or unisexual, lack petals, quite small and almost imperceptible. They grow in the leaf axils. They are purple to purplish-brown in color. The male flowers have three stamens which extend outwards from the flower. There are three sepals; petals are three in number or none in some cases. Both the sepals and petals are three in number. The flowers are pollinated by moths, butterflies, bees and flies.
Fruits: The fruits are juicy black drupes almost 6 to 9 millimeters in diameter. Each fruit has six to nine nutlets which resemble seeds. Ripening of the seeds occur in September. The fruits are edible but tasteless.
Roots: These plants are equipped with a strong and sturdy primary root which as the plant grows, develops into a shallow root structure having several lateral roots.
Empetrum nigrum Varieties
Empetrum nigrum hermaphroditum is a commonly known subspecies of this plant.
Empetrum nigrum Health Benefits
The branches, stems, leaves, fruits and roots of these shrubs have several health benefits which help to cure several physical ailments such as urine problems, diarrhea as well as cough and cold.
Reproduction in Empetrum nigrum
Empetrum nigrum is a monoecious, dioecious or polygamous plant. The fruits are comprised of 6 to 9 nutlets. Animals and birds help in dispersing the seeds. Although some seeds are established under parental protection, often many seedlings face an untimely death.
Young plants sprout from the basal portions of the parent plant or the underground. Another way of vegetative growth is when established branches meet the ground.
How to grow Empetrum nigrum
The Empetrum nigrum is an evergreen, perennial plant. The following paragraphs discuss the various conditions suitable for the growth of these plants as well as how to care for them:
Temperature and Weather Conditions: Black crowberry is well adapted to live in cold and harsh climates, and since it often grows on cold Tundra regions or in similar places with cold temperatures, it is mostly exposed to wind, fog and freezing temperatures. The plants would do well if it gets full sun with occasional shady conditions. The minimum temperatures at which these plants can survive is -43°F. The plant is highly drought tolerant. The morphology of the plant is highly dependent on the surrounding temperature and weather conditions. The plant develops elaborate branches when it is grown on sites having high wind exposure. On dry areas it develops branching shoots and bushes; whereas on wet locations these plants show very little branching and displays overall long yearly growth increments.
Watering: These plants grow well on moist soil conditions, but cannot tolerate prolonged water logging. The water should be properly drained.
Precipitation: The maximum and minimum precipitation required for these plants is 55 inches and 16 inches respectively.
Planting density: A minimum of 700 individual plants can be planted per acre of soil. The maximum limit should not exceed 1700 plants per acre.
Soil: Black crowberry is a calcifuge plant; which means that it avoids alkaline soils. They are easily grown in lime-free sandy peats and rocky soils, alluvial deposits and glacial till. They are most commonly found in stagnant surfaces and mineral soils which are rich in nutrients and poor in nitrogen content. The soil texture should be between medium to fine.
Soil pH: The Empetrum nigrum can grow well in soil pH ranging between 4.3 and 7.8. However, the soil pH depends on the nature of the soil. The requisite soil pH for various types of soil is given below:
- Mildly alkaline – 7.6 to 7.8
- Neutral – 6.6 to 7.5
- Mildly acidic – 6.1 to 6.5
- Acidic – 5.6 to 6.0
- Strongly acidic – 5.1 to 5.5
- Highly acidic – 4.6 to 5.0
- Very acidic – 4.5 or below
Propagation: Wild populations of these plants generally emerge from seeds as well as creeping stems which later cultivates into roots. The best ways to propagate these plants are from seeds or stem cuttings. It is ideal to sow the seeds as soon as they ripen in a cold environment. The germination of seeds can be slow. Seeds that are stored are needed to be exposed to warmth for 5 months and then they should pass a cold stratification period for 3 months at 5°C. As they grow larger the seedlings should be planted into individual pots and grown in a greenhouse for the first winter. The plants should be transferred to their permanent position during the late spring or early summer months. If propagation method is from woody stem cuttings, 3 centimeters long wood cuttings with heel should be collected from the current year’s plant and planted in peat during the months of July-August.
Harvesting Empetrum nigrum
Black crowberries are harvested during August-September after the fruits have been ripened. They can also be harvested during the winter or early spring next year.
Empetrum nigrum Habitat
Black crowberry plants can be found in Alaska, the Yukon Territory, Canada, Newfoundland, Greenland, northern Europe and Eurasia. It is also found in the Falkland Islands.
These plants grow abundantly in dry, rocky alpine areas, shrub habitats, conifer forests, shorelines and open muskegs.
Empetrum nigrum Nutritional Facts
The nutritional facts for per ounce of Empetrum nigrum are given below:
|Amounts of Calories Per Serving||%DV|
Empretrum nigrum Interesting Facts
Here are some interesting facts about these plants:
- These plants are normally unisexual but sometimes hermaphrodite species can also be found.
- The fruits are edible but tasteless.
- The plants are highly resistant to fire.
- These plants serve as a major fodder for animals and birds living in the Tundra and adjoining areas.
Empetrum nigrum Uses
The fruits of this plant can be eaten raw or cooked. The fruits are mostly tasteless, although the taste improves after the winter season. Fruits are also used in the making of drinks, preservatives and pies. The twigs of this plant are used to make tea.
The fruits of this plant have ophthalmic, diuretic and astringent properties. The leaves and branches have been used to treat children’s urine and kidney problems. Extracts from cooked berries or stems have been used to treat diarrhea as well as cough and cold. Extracts from the roots are used to wash eyes and treat eye problems.
The plant is grown in many locations to cover exposed soil. The fruits can also be used in the manufacturing of a purple dye.
Empetrum nigrum Side Effects
There are no known side effects of this plant. However, a person should avoid consuming these berries if he or she is allergic to the various minerals or vitamin components that are present in these fruits.
Empetrum nigrum Images
Here are some images showing the Empetrum nigrum plants and the fruits.
The Empetrum nigrum is one of the most commonly found plants in the Tundra and other neighboring areas. The plant is highly tolerant of drought and other unfriendly weather conditions. The medicinal properties of the fruits make it an important plant grown in this region of the world.
- by Prasenjit Banerjee
- January 11th 2012