Most clan societies have a clan plant. In the case of Clan Scott it is the Blaeberry (Vaccinium myrtillus). The word Blae means blue/black or blackish/blue. It is called the bilberry in England. In the United States it is called a whortleberry or dwarf huckleberry. It is also referred to as a variety of European blueberry. However, it is not a true blueberry or huckleberry even though they are of the same genus. It is also a cousin of the cranberry as well as a member of the heather family.
The blaeberry grows in Scotland, Europe, Asia, Canada, and the mountains of Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming in the United States. The plant makes a perfect ground cover, as it prefers an acidic soil in the shade of evergreen trees such as the pine forests of the Rockies and the Cascades. Though it grows all over Scotland, and is used profusely, it is most abundant in the Highlands.
Growth is from sprouts emerging from its intricate root system, for the most part; therefore it recovers rapidly after a forest fire. Before blooms can appear the stems must be at least three years of age. However, they don't do well after fifteen years even though they can live up to twenty-five years.
The blaeberry begins blooming in May shortly after new leaves appear. The flower is a waxy pinkish red, bell shaped, open ended, and faces downward. The berries form in July and August and can produce fruit as long as there is no frost. The berries are 1/4 inch in diameter and contain 40 seeds. For that reason it isn't a good candidate for commercialization. The leaves undergo a change of color before falling to the ground ranging from a dull yellow/brown to bright shades of red and orange.
The height of the blaeberry varies from three inches to twenty-four inches reaching its greatest size in the Caledonia Forest of Scotland. However, due to 300 years of sheep grazing in the Forest it has been reduced to a close cropped ground cover whose ability to flower and bear fruit has been sharply curtailed.
Known for its high content of antioxidants and other compounds, the blaeberry has been used for medicinal purposes for hundreds of years, in addition to pies, tarts, jams, jellies, and syrup. Due its intense rich color, the blaeberry has been used as a dye for centuries. There is more information about the blaeberry and beautiful color pictures of the plant located online at www.treesforlife.org.uk/tfl.blaeberry.html.
My special thanks to the Master Gardener’s Department of the Oklahoma State University Extension Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma for their help and advice in the preparation of this article.
Last updated 23June2005 dms, (c) 2003-2005 Clan Scott Society, Inc.