Flanders Moss NNR and Blawhorn Moss NNR
A bog is a really tough place to live if you are a plant. It is constantly waterlogged, very acidic plus there are very little food available as the only water that reaches the site is rain from above so no minerals from soils reach the peat. Happily, many plants that live on bogs are specially adapted to these tough conditions. And one of those is the cranberry.
People might not recognize cranberries in the wild but everyone knows of cranberries as something to put on their roast turkey on Christmas day or to be drunk as a juice. These cranberry products tend to be made from commercially grown berries often from North America. But the cranberry that grows on UK bogs, including plenty at Flanders Moss is a very similar plant and you can see them easily when walking the boardwalk at Flanders and Blawhorn at this time of year.
They are specially adapted to bogs by having thin thread-like stems that allow the plant to grow across the carpet of sphagnum and not get covered. Their leaves are small and adapted to loose as little water as possible, a bit like arid land plants. Why is this necessary on a water logged bog? When plants transpire water they lose minerals in the evaporation and minerals available from plants are very scarce. So the less water you lose the less minerals you lose. They are also adapted to be able to live underwater in zero oxygen conditions for a period of time. All in all they are real bog specialists.
At this time of the year the really obvious part of the plant is the giant red berry. These have developed from beautiful bright pink flowers and stand out, thinly scattered on the bog surface. But these days it can be hard work collecting enough berries to actually use on your Christmas dinner. Wading across the spongy, soaking ground picking up the a few berries isn’t very rewarding. But historically they must have grown in much greater numbers as in the 18th century, according the Flora Celtica, local markets in the Borders sold the phenomenal number of about 4500lbs of cranberries a day, which were barrelled and sent to London It appears that when bogs are grazed the cranberry does better, perhaps because the competing cotton grass and heather are kept down by the sheep so this might be an indication that bogs were better grazed back then.
What hasn’t changed though is the sourness of the berries. They do need a lot of sugar to make them edible: you can try one raw but the sharpness tends to really draw your cheeks in ….all four of them!