If you’re anything like me, this time of year means you have cranberries on the brain. I’m not going to lie, my must-have Thanksgiving side is this cranberry sauce with port wine + tangerine zest. But beyond my culinary appreciation of this tart fruit native to the US, I’m also deeply fascinated by its ecology – how and where cranberries grow. And I recently discovered that WNC has its very own cranberry bog.
When most people think of where we get the cranberries we eat, NC isn’t usually on the list of states that come to mind. The majority of cranberries produced in this country come from states including Wisconsin, Massachusetts, and Oregon.
But cranberries can be found in the wild here in high-elevation bogs, including the Jonas Ridge Bog, right down the road in Burke County, just north of Morganton bordering the Pisgah Loop Scenic Byway. That particular bog is protected through a conservation easement by The Foothills Conservancy of North Carolina, which purchased the 17-acre property (six acres of that is the bog) last December from private landowners.
What, exactly, is a bog? According to National Geographic, it’s “a wetland of soft, spongy ground” made up mostly of peat (a.k.a. dead plant matter). And, because bogs are both oxygen-rich and nutrient-poor, they tend to suit particular species – like cranberries. Bogs can take thousands of years to form, and they’re among the most endangered ecosystems on our planet. They’re also key for their ability to absorb large amounts of precipitation, which helps prevent flooding.
Here in WNC, mountain bogs are even more imperilled, and 80-90% of our bogs have been lost to development. And cranberries aren’t the only significant resident of this 3,400’ bog – it’s also home to other unique species, like rare dragonflies, salamanders, and migratory birds. Bonus: This particular bog is also apparently a Bigfoot hangout – with eight sightings reported over the last five years.
While you can’t visit just yet, Foothills is planning an interpretive trail for hikers. In the meantime, you can check out another cranberry bog right on the Parkway (Milepost 297) at Julian Price Memorial Park (take the Boone Fork Trail). There are also wild cranberry populations at Black Balsam + Ivester Gap.
Got cranberries on the brain now? Get more trivia – and recipes – here.