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Vaccinium

Vaccinium myrtillus - bilberry (or whortleberry, whinberry, European blueberry)

Vaccinium myrtillus ©Susanna

Bilberry is one of the marker species used to classify Finnish forest types. The greater part of Finland’s mineral soils are described as “bilberry type” heath forest. The forests at Mustila are also mainly “bilberry type” or ”may lily-bilberry type” upland forest with grass-herb vegetation.

Bilberry thrives in moist forests beneath a tree canopy. In times past, when the state’s forests were freely available for the creation of new fields through slash and burn, one criterion used by new settlers staking claims was the saying “own ground strawberry, other ground bilberry”. Previously cleared fields were first populated by strawberry (Fragaria vesca) and shrubs, and it took longer for these pioneers to be replaced by trees and bilberry. This meant that where strawberries grew was probably somebody else’s land, but if it was bilberry land, then it was no-man’s-land, and a new settler could lay claim to it.

Bilberry stems remain green through the winter under snow cover and are an important food resource for wild animals. In spring and early summer the flowers attract all kinds of insects, particularly bumblebees. In late summer the dark blue aromatic berries attract both birds and humans. They contain lots of antocyanins, which belong to the antioxidant flavonoids, and have been shown to have beneficial health effects.

 

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