Heaths in Iceland typically have many low-growing species of shrubs as well as slightly taller growing willow and sometimes birch or dwarf birch. Commonly the shrub vegetation has scattered patches of sedges, grasses and even mosses. The low growing shrubs include crowberry (Empetrum nigrum), heather (Calluna vulgaris) and Berberry (Arctostapylos uva-ursi) and two species of Vaccinum.
The two species of Vaccinum are Bog Blueberry (Vaccinium uliginosum), common all over the country while Billberry (Vaccinium myrtillus) is common in most parts of the country except parts of South Iceland. These species like other low-growing shrubs are long-lived perennials. Both species are low growing often forming large mats on south facing slopes and depressions, where in winter they where protected from exposure by layers of snow. The rather narrow creeping stems of Bog Blueberry are brown with dark green leaves, whereas Billberry commonly has green branches and light green leaves. In the early summer both species are decorated with bell-shaped whitish flowers. If fertilization is successful these develop into tough green and later soft and juicy berries. Used in earlier times in Iceland for blue colouring of clothes as a substitute for indigo. The juicy berries are also an excellent source of vitamin C and minerals. In late summer people from towns and farms in Iceland go berry hunting on all open-access areas, picking the berries into bags and buckets either manually or using a specially designed equipment. If you are in Iceland you can look forward to this treat in late summer. When in Iceland try also the speciality skyr (a skimmed-milk yogurt) topped with berries and pour some cream on top!
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