(Vaccinium x intermedium Rultie)

'What on earth', you may ask, 'is the hybrid bilberry?' To which question most people would be obliged to reply 'I haven't got a clue!' But you dear surfer, now that you have this article before your close scrutiny, have the opportunity to impress your friends and loved-ones with your superior knowledge of the flora of Cannock Chase. Read on!

First identified as a distinct species by a German botanist in 1826, the Hybrid Bilberry was not recognised in Britain until 1870 when it was found living in Maer Woods in north-west Staffordshire, and was first identified on Cannock Chase a few years later in 1886. Now known to occur in several northern European countries, its range in the British Isles is restricted to the upland regions of the English counties of Staffordshire, Derbyshire and Yorkshire, being found in a total of only 25 separate locations. The species is far more prolific on Cannock Chase in Staffordshire than anywhere else, and this has led to it being sometimes called the 'Cannock Chase Berry'.

The Hybrid Bilberry (Vaccinium x intermedium Rultie) is a cross between Common Bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus) and the Cowberry (V. vitis-idæa), displaying characteristics of both parent species, as its scientific name implies. The natural habitat for all three species is the same, that being open heath or moorland, or open woodland, with a marked preference for acidic soils, the hybrid, however, is able to withstand harsher environmental conditions. The berries of all three plants are edible, being rich in Vitamin C, and can be used in a variety of recipes from preserves to pies. Their leaves and berries also have known medicinal properties, containing arbutin, pectin, and other active ingredients in varying amounts.

 BilberryHybridCowberry
Leaf Habitdeciduous, falling every Autumnevergreen, lasting 2 or 3 yearsevergreen, lasting 4 to 5 years
Leaf Shapethin and somewhat wrinkled, with a pointed tipthicker than bilberry, less wrinkled, with a blunt tipsomewhat fleshy, with an indentation at the tip
Leaf Coloursame light green colour above and belowsemi-glossy light green above, paler beneathglossy dark-green above, lighter matt-green below
Stemssharply angledgenerally rounded with some degree of ridging towards the toprounded
Flowersdark reddish-pink, borne singlypale pink, borne in small bunches of between 2 to 8pinkish-white, borne in bunches of 6 to 12
Fruitrounded blue-black, sweet-tasting berries, 6-8mm in diameterblue-black berries closely similar to bilberry, which although somewhat larger, are noticably less abundantglobular red berries, 0.8 - 1.2 cm in diameter, somewhat acidic

The Hybrid does not occur where either of the the parent plants are absent, and the precise method of propagation is not known. Experiments in hybridization using both the parent plants and the hybrid itself, have repeatedly failed to reproduce the species. The reason why the hybrid appears only in specific locales, and does not occur everywhere that both parent species habituate is currently unknown, as are the causes of its proliferation on Cannock Chase.


Related information is available on the CCH page:
The Flora of Cannock Chase

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