Autumn is a wonderful time in Interior Alaska. No mosquitoes, beautiful colors and lovely weather. If it weren’t so brief and wasn’t the herald of our long, dark winter, it would be perfect. This year, the weather patterns have induced the Highbush Cranberries (Vibrunum edule) to unusually vivid reds.
The forest on this hillside is second growth Alaska Paper Birch, with an understory of mixed Highbush Cranberry and Alaska Prickly Rose. The effect with the yellow-tinged birch leaves, stark-white tree trunks and blue sky is very nice.
Where the Highbush Cranberries don’t dominate the understory, the colors are much less vibrant. This uphill view shows how patchy the Highbush Cranberries are.
The berries themselves are a brilliant red. It’s a seed spreading strategy. The brightly colored fruit attracts birds. including Rusty and Red-winged Blackbirds in the fall, and Ruffed Grouse and Bohemian Waxwings all fall and winter. The seeds inside the fruit can withstand a trip through a bird’s gut, so the birds, in return for the fruit, serve as a seed dispersal mechanism.
You can’t write about Highbush Cranberries without mentioning their distinctive autumn smell. It’s hard to describe, and it’s not the same to everyone. Some folks smell a musty, pleasant scent. Others think it smells like rancid garbage. In a longer, milder autumn, the smell can be a bit overpowering.
But for the WC it smells like early autumn. And it’s here.