Empetrum nigrum

Empetrum nigrum, crowberry,[3] black crowberry, or, in western Alaska, blackberry, is a flowering plant species in the heather family Ericaceae with a near circumboreal distribution in the Northern Hemisphere. It is usually dioecious, but there is a bisexual tetraploid subspecies, Empetrum nigrum subsp. hermaphroditum, which occurs in more northerly locations and at higher altitude.[4][5]

Black crowberry
Empetrum nigrum by Maseltov 2.jpg
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Eudicots
Clade: Asterids
Order: Ericales
Family: Ericaceae
Genus: Empetrum
E. nigrum
Binomial name
Empetrum nigrum
  • Chamaetaxus nigra (L.) Bubani
  • Empetrum arcticum V.N.Vassil.
  • Empetrum crassifolium Raf.
  • Empetrum eamesii subsp. hermaphroditum (Hagerup) D.Löve
  • Empetrum hermaphroditum Hagerup
  • Empetrum hermaphroditum var. americanum V.N.Vassil.
  • Empetrum medium Carmich.
  • Empetrum nigrum f. cylindricum Lepage
  • Empetrum nigrum var. hermaphroditum (Hagerup) T.Sørensen
  • Empetrum nigrum subsp. hermaphroditum (Hagerup) Böcher
  • Empetrum nigrum f. purpureum (Raf.) Fernald
  • Empetrum nigrum var. purpureum (Raf.) A.DC.
  • Empetrum purpureum Raf.


Empetrum nigrum is a low growing, evergreen shrub with a creeping habit.[6] The leaves are 3–6 millimetres (1814 inch) long, arranged alternately along the stem. The stems are red when young and then fade to brown. It blooms between May and June.[7] The flowers are small and not very noticeable,[6] with greenish-pink sepals that turn reddish purple.[8] The round fruits are drupes, 4–6 mm (1814 in) wide, usually black or purplish-black but occasionally red.[9]

The metabolism and photosynthetic parameters of Empetrum can be altered in winter-warming experiments.[10]

The yellow-leaved cultivar Empetrum nigrum 'Lucia'
Alaskan crowberry


Distribution and habitatEdit

The species has a near circumboreal distribution in the Northern Hemisphere.[citation needed] It is also native in the Falkland Islands.[13][14]

Evolutionary biologists have explained the striking geographic distribution of crowberries as a result of long-distance migratory birds dispersing seeds from one pole to the other.[15]

Empetrum nigrum grows in acidic soils in shady, moist areas.


The plant is a food source of several moths, including the Black Mountain, Mountain Burnet and Broad-bordered White Underwing.[7]


The fruit is edible and can be dried.[16] However, it has an acidic taste and can cause headaches.[7] While abundant in Scandinavia, it is treasured for its ability to make good wine, juices, or jelly. In subarctic areas, the plant has been a vital addition to the diet of the Inuit and the Sami. The Dena'ina (Tanaina) harvest it for food, sometimes storing in quantity for winter, and like it mixed with lard or oil.

The species can also be grown as a ground cover,[17] or as an ornamental plant in rock gardens, notably the yellow-foliaged cultivar 'Lucia'. The fruit is high in anthocyanin pigment and can be used to make a natural food dye.[17]


The Scottish Highlands Clan Maclean's badge is believed to be E. nigrum; cuttings of it would be raised on standards to denote clan identity and allegiance.


  1. ^ Sp. Pl. 2: 1022. 1753 [1 May 1753] "Plant Name Details for Empetrum nigrum". IPNI. Retrieved 1 December 2009.
  2. ^ "Empetrum nigrum L." Plants of the World Online. Board of Trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. 2017. Retrieved 11 July 2020.
  3. ^ Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Crowberry" . Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 7 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 513.
  4. ^ Stace, C. A. (2010) New Flora of the British Isles, 3rd edition. Cambridge University press. ISBN 978-0-521-70772-5. pp. 525.
  5. ^ Kråkbär (in Swedish)
  6. ^ a b Barbara Coffin; Lee Pfannmuller (1988). Minnesota's Endangered Flora and Fauna. U of Minnesota Press. p. 96. ISBN 978-0-8166-1689-3.
  7. ^ a b c Reader's Digest Field Guide to the Wild Flowers of Britain. Reader's Digest. 1981. p. 220. ISBN 978-0-276-00217-5.
  8. ^ "Empetrum nigrum in Flora of North America @ efloras.org". www.efloras.org. Retrieved 2020-12-30.
  9. ^ "Jepson eFlora: Empetrum nigrum". University and Jepson Herbaria. University of California, Berkeley. Retrieved 15 May 2017.
  10. ^ Bokhorst, S; Bjerke, JW; Davey, MP; Taulavuori, K; Taulavuori, E; Laine, K; Callaghan, TV; Phoenix, GK (2010). "Impacts of extreme winter warming events on plant physiology in a sub-Arctic heath community". Physiologia Plantarum. 140 (2): 128–140. doi:10.1111/j.1399-3054.2010.01386.x. PMID 20497369.
  11. ^ English Names for Korean Native Plants (PDF). Pocheon: Korea National Arboretum. 2015. p. 456. ISBN 978-89-97450-98-5. Archived from the original (PDF) on 25 May 2017. Retrieved 24 December 2016 – via Korea Forest Service.
  12. ^ "Empetrum subholarcticum V.N.Vassil". www.worldfloraonline.org. Retrieved 15 February 2021.
  13. ^ "Empetrum nigrum". Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN). Agricultural Research Service (ARS), United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Retrieved 15 December 2017.
  14. ^ "Empetrum nigrum L." PLANTS.
  15. ^ Magnus Popp; Virginia Mirré; Christian Brochmann (2011). Peter H. Raven (ed.). "A single Mid-Pleistocene long-distance dispersal by a bird can explain the extreme bipolar disjunction in crowberries". PNAS. Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis, Missouri. 108 (16): 6520–6525. doi:10.1073/pnas.1012249108. PMC 3081031. PMID 21402939.
  16. ^ The Complete Guide to Edible Wild Plants. United States Department of the Army. New York: Skyhorse Publishing. 2009. p. 47. ISBN 978-1-60239-692-0. OCLC 277203364.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: others (link)
  17. ^ a b "Empetrum nigrum - L." Plants for a Future. Retrieved 15 May 2017.