St. Paul, Minn. (November 21, 2000)—Cranberries will be plentiful this holiday season thanks to nearly one hundred years of research by plant pathologists. Found growing in peat bogs and marshes by the first colonists to arrive from Europe, cranberries were quickly incorporated into their diets. Native Americans used them to make pemmican, a mixture of dried meat or fish and berries and they were the first to make them into a sweetened sauce using maple sugar. Cranberries were also used as a poultice for wounds and when mixed with cornmeal created an excellent cure for blood poisoning. The juice was even used as a dye to brighten the colors of blankets and rugs.
In 1816, Henry Hall, a Revolutionary War veteran, was the first person to cultivate cranberries. He transplanted them from the wild near his home on Cape Cod and by 1820 was shipping them to Boston and New York City.
As demand for cranberries grew and the number of growers and production acreage increased, so too did disease problems. In the late 1800’s, cranberry fruit rot disease devastated harvests. “This was a time when plant pathology (the study of plant diseases) was in its infancy and data implicating fungi or bacteria as disease-causing agents were sparse,” according to Frank Caruso, plant pathologist, University of Massachusetts, and member of the largest group of plant health scientists, The American Phytopathological Society (APS).
Another disease, false-blossom disease, nearly wiped out cranberry culture in New Jersey and caused major problems in Massachusetts during the 1920’s and 1930’s. Ongoing research by plant pathologists helped tackle these diseases and today there is little loss from false-blossom and other diseases.
As one of only three major fruits native to North America and, most historians agree, part of that first historic Thanksgiving meal, it’s nice to know that the heritage of the cranberry continues.
You can find out more about cranberry history and production in North America on APSnet at www.apsnet.org/publications/apsnetfeatures/Pages/Cranberries.aspx. The American Phytopathological Society (APS) is a non-profit, professional scientific organization dedicated to the study and control of plant disease with 5,000 members worldwide.