Of the more than 400 species of plants that make up the wild flowers of the Faroe Islands, only a few woody plants occur. Two of these ligneous plants are the juniper berry and crowberry.
Common juniper (Juniperus communis subsp. alpina)
Today, several species of conifer and shrub grow in the Faroe Islands. Most of these have been imported and planted here. The only indigenous plant species in the same family as conifers is the juniper. In some areas, the names “juniper” and “juniper berry” are used indiscriminately to describe these plants.
The juniper is a low-growing, evergreen shrub. Its needles measure approximately 1 cm and have a light, grey-green colour. Juniper is normally a dioecious species, which means that it has separate male and female plants. The male flower is yellow and oblong with an abundance of stamens. The female flower is greenish in colour, making it difficult to see. The fruit consists of so-called berry cones that take two to three years to mature. The berry cones are green in the first year, and mature in the second and third year to a deep blue colour.
During the period after the last Ice Age, juniper was relatively widespread throughout the Faroe Islands. As the climate became wetter, the juniper bushes gradually disappeared. Some 5,000 years ago, however, another change in the climate occurred and the growing conditions for juniper improved. In many areas, juniper stumps can be found in strata from this period. Around 600 BC, however, the climate became wetter again and juniper dispersal came to a complete halt. This decline continued when the islands became inhabited by people and, today, juniper can only be found on the island of Svínoy and a small number of other locations in the Faroes.
Juniper trees are low growing and, therefore, cannot be used as timber. Nevertheless, they have a number of other useful purposes. In the Faroe Islands, juniper was used for smoking meat and, a type of rope made of twisted juniper stems was found in the Viking excavation in Kvívík.
The berries, which are not actually berries but seed cones, are also used as a spice and medication. For example, gin derives its distinctive flavour from immature juniper berries.
Crowberry (Empetrum nigrum)
Crowberry is a genus of dwarf shrub that is commonly found in the Faroe Islands. It grows particularly well on dry heathland and is also among the most common plants on moorland. As with the juniper bush, the crowberry is an evergreen which means that the leaves remain on the plant throughout the winter.
Two subspecies of crowberry grow in the Faroe Islands: common crowberry (Empetrum nigrum subs. nigrum) and mountain crowberry (Empetrum nigrum subs. hermaphroditum). Mountain crowberry is found on all the islands, while the common crowberry only grows on the island of Streymoy and the southern islands. In Scandinavia, common crowberry only grows in Finland, Denmark and Southern Sweden, while mountain crowberry grows in Finland and the greater part of Sweden and Norway.
Common crowberry and mountain crowberry are very similar to each other but the crucial difference is that the common crowberry is a dioecious species, like the common juniper. Mountain crowberry, on the other hand, has hermaphrodite flowers.
The stems of the common crowberry are low and trailing. On the lower part of the bush the stems are mat-forming, making the common crowberry closer to the ground than the mountain crowberry which has more upright stems.
The first pink flowers begin to develop around April and May, while the familiar glossy black crowberries mature in July and August. Consumption of the ripe berries by people as well as animals plays an important part in the distribution of the seeds. When eaten by birds, it takes some time for the seeds to pass through the bird’s digestive system. During this period, it is likely that the bird will have moved some distance away from the original crowberry plant, thus ensuring its seeds are dispersed over a wide area.
In the Faroe Islands, crowberries are picked and eaten raw, cooked in porridge or used to make jam.
Values: two stamps of 0.50 and 6.50DKK
Date of issue: 1-IX-2011
Author: Edward Fuglø
Printer: LMGroup, Canada