9 Cranberry Varieties (The Most Common Varieties)

Harvested fresh cranberries on a gray background.

You’d be hard-pressed to locate a fresh cranberry among the numerous wonderful fruits that most Americans consume on a daily basis — until Thanksgiving, that is.

Though dried cranberries are common in granola blends and baked goods, and the juice is popular in combination with vodka and favored by those who suffer from UTIs, many of us have never tasted fresh cranberries, preferring instead to buy a can of the gloppy jelly-like stuff to serve with our Thanksgiving dinner.

Fresh is usually preferable since it has more vitamins and minerals.

Others have only bought bags of frozen berries or a plastic carton of fresh ones when they first appeared in grocery stores in the autumn season, to bake into pumpkin bread and mix into relish.

What Constitutes a Cranberry?

To begin, some explanation is required. As is the case with many plants, the common name “cranberry” refers to a number of distinct species.

The most frequently grown variation in North America is Vaccinium macrocarpon, and it is this native species that we will concentrate on today.

It’s worth mentioning, however, that the American cranberry bush, a viburnum species, also produces delicious red berries that may be used in cooking and eaten in a similar way.

Viburnum trilobum, also known as Viburnum opulus var. americanum, grows best in Zones 2–7 and prefers well-drained soils with lots of water. This “highbush” plant (sometimes known as a tree) has an upright growth habit and may reach a mature stature of 12 feet tall with a similar spread.

In the spring, clusters of white blooms resembling elderberries emerge, followed by red fruit in the autumn that persists through the winter. With the changing of the seasons, the dark green foliage becomes a lovely crimson.

The fruit will appeal to both birds and humans. These are a little smaller than real cranberries, but they have a tangy taste that’s great in homemade jelly, and they only contain one seed.

Types of Cranberries

Ben Lear

This wild, natural type was chosen for cultivation in 1901, and named during the same year by D. R. Burr in Berlin, Wisconsin, as per Paul Eck’s book on American cranberry, published by the Rutgers University Press during the year 1990.

This early cranberry cultivar with deep and big red fruit that is renowned for being extremely prolific.

Without getting into the nitty gritty of the breeding process, this variety was reportedly almost rejected as “undesirable genotype” back in the day.

However, in recent years, it has observed a revival in popularity, and it is now often cultivated commercially using clones of its wild and original counterpart, or utilized for breeding to develop new cultivars.

Queen of the Crimson

This is a variety that is renowned for rapidly establishing itself and having a robust growth habit, was the initial type published by Dr. Nicholi Vorsa in collaboration with the 2006 breeding program started by the Rutgers University.

It’s a contemporary enhancement on both famous types, a hybrid of ‘Ben Lear’ and ‘Stevens’.

It blooms some days prior to ‘Stevens,’ and is renowned for producing more consistent and bigger yields in comparison to ‘Ben Lear’.

‘Crimson King’ is a recent descendent with a reputation for large yields. It was developed by the Grygleskis who resides in the Valley Corporation in Tomah, Wisconsin, and introduced in 2009. The third-generation of farmers are now Ocean Spray producers, with 300 acres under cultivation.

Early Black

The cultivar ripens early, usually before Massachusetts’ initial date of frost, which is beneficial to farmers. It also contains tiny, red and dark berries that have a nice sweetness for a fruit of this kind.

However, although some say that Captain Nathaniel Robbins of Harwich Center, Massachusetts “discovered” this heirloom in 1852, Captain Cyrus Cahoon also happens to be linked to the initial cultivation the Early Black cranberry type.

It is possible that Cahoon was just a more successful marketer who was able to make a greater amount of ‘to do’ regarding this kind, as per his nephew, as quoted in an extract from a 1936 issue of “Cranberries: The National Cranberry Magazine.” Robbins’ meticulous agricultural techniques were also noticed by Cahoon’s nephew, perhaps a remnant of his era as an old sailor and captain of the sea.

Indeed, numerous sea captains shifted careers at this period in the history of Massachusetts, abandoning their days at sea for the profitable field of cranberry farming.

This cultivar is less susceptible to the type of soil than others, which is a plus. From ‘Early Black,’ you may expect lesser yields than you would with more contemporary hybrid types.

It also develops a lot of runners, so you might have to trim it more frequently than other kinds. However, if you want to propagate significant quantities of the plant, this would be a great quality!

Despite the fact that tracing the ancestry of commercially manufactured hybrids may be challenging at times, plenty of breeders have adhered to a set of agreed-upon guidelines while paying tribute to the vintage cranberry variety. Modern hybrids featuring the word ‘Black’ within their names, such as ‘Black Veil’ and ‘Black Diamond,’ are probable ancestors.

‘Early Black’ is somewhat resistant to any false bloom, but it is especially sensitive to fungal diseases, which is why you might have to keep up with a program of frequent fungicide treatments throughout the season. However, you’ll be rewarded with cranberry that does well under storage until harvest time arrives.

Franklin

This hybrid of ‘Early Black’ and ‘Howes’ is prized for its high amount of pectiness and low juiciness. This variety is your answer if you were looking for sauce.

This glossy and shiny fruit ripens quick and early, keeps well, and it contains more seeds compared to most other varieties. False bloom disease isn’t a problem for these plants, and they don’t generate many runners.

Howes

Another famous Massachusetts heirloom that ripens slightly later compared to ‘Early Black,’ this one is frost hardy and has glossy fruit.

After stumbling upon this formerly wild variety in East Dennis, Massachusetts in 1843 and choosing it for the purpose of cultivation, Eli Howes, a homesteader, gave it a name.

A lot of experts credit Cape Cord as being the origin of production of cultivated cranberries in the United States, thanks to a man called Henry Hall. Hall fenced in a few wild bushes in 1816 to prevent the local animals from eating them.

The fruit of ‘Howes’ is solid and keeps well. While this variety is immune to rotting, it is vulnerable to false bloom.

McFarlin, No. 6

This heritage, which was discovered in the wild during 1874 and is linked to Charles Dexter McFarlin of South Carver, Massachusetts, is fairly resistant in the face of false bloom, and yields big, late-ripening fruit.

McFarlin was famous for growing these berries within Massachusetts, while he subsequently took them to the city of Oregon, where he planted this type in the initial Rockies commercial kind of bog-west, according to legend.

Pilgrimage

This variety is a mix between ‘McFarlin’ and ‘Prolific,’ and it yields red and deep fruit that ripens late and keeps well. The berries happen to be delicious and contain low amounts of pectin, and the bushes are cold hardy and resistant against false bloom.

‘Pilgrim King’ is a proprietary variety of the Valley Corp that was introduced in 1996 and is a descendent of ‘Pilgrim.’ Plants are popular for generating huge yields and have very big fruits that mature late.

Hirt’s Garden Store sells ‘Pilgrim’ plants present inside pots with a 3.25-inch diameter, via Amazon.

Scarlet Knight

This Rutgers variety is quite resistant to disease, with a rich red hue and a taste that is considerably sweeter than that of others kinds.

High quantities of big, premium-quality fruit, with a weight of approximately 2.4 gram per berry, are produced by the plants. This variety is also renowned for its extended shelf life.

This cranberry type was developed through a cross performed between ‘Stevens’ and another unpublished Rutgers hybrid, NJS9837, which was itself a mix between ‘Ben Lear’ and ‘Franklin.’ It was released in 1995.

Stevens

This kind dominates the market in cultivation as a hybrid of ‘McFarlin’ and ‘Potter’ (a ‘Searles’ sub-variety that itself happens to be a wild and natural heirloom going back all the way to Wisconsin during 1893).

F. Bain named ‘Stevens’ in the town of Whitesbog in New Jersey, during the year 1940.

This fruit ripens slightly sooner than ‘Howes,’ with a rich red hue and a large number of seeds.

High yields are produced by vigorous vines, and the cranberry is luscious yet contains low amounts of pectin, making it ideal for both commercial and home processing.

Cranberries: How To Grow Them

One of the simplest ways to put fresh food on the Christmas table is to plant cranberries in your garden. Cranberries are perennial, meaning that once planted, plants will continue to produce harvests year after year with no maintenance. Our little 8-foot cranberry bed produces enough cranberries to feed our family for the whole winter, and all it needs is a little weeding and a sand mulch once a year.

Where To Get Cranberry Plants And How To Grow Them

Branches of cranberries, focused shot.

While cranberries may be grown from seed, most people nowadays start with nursery cranberry plants in pots. Choose plants with dark green foliage and a lot of runners that may escape the container.

Ours came from a local nursery, but they’re also available online for a reasonable price. Plant cranberries on a good sandy soil with a little peat, if possible. Cranberries like wet, acidic soils, and peat helps to acidify the soil while also retaining moisture.

Plant cranberries in a bed made up of 2 parts peat and 1 part sand, with clay soil beneath to keep the moisture in. The additional acidity in the peat supports the mycorrhizal fungus that interacts with the cranberries to keep them healthy, and it also inhibits weeds.

The first cranberry blooms will appear in a few weeks if cranberries are planted in the spring.

Cranberries are a groundcover plant that takes a long time to spread. Grass competition may strangle young plants, but once they’ve established themselves, they’ll be able to out-compete most others.

Final Word

To sum up, cranberries come in numerous different varieties, and we hope that this blog will help you learn about some of the most popular ones. In addition, if you are planning to grow your own cranberries, the tips discussed in this guide will prove useful to you.

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