Cranberries as we know them today, are one of the few native fruits to North America. They were originally used by the Native Americans for more than just food. The berries were utilized as a dye and found to be useful as a medicinal source. The dark red berries, which are easily identified on the Thanksgiving table, come from a low, creeping dwarf shrub or vine. It has evergreen leaves and produces dark pink flowers. The berry begins white and turns a dark red when ripe and is actually larger than the leaves of the plant. The edible berry is characterized with an acidic taste that overpowers most of the sweetness.
The cultivation of cranberries requires that no machinery to be driven on the field itself. The field is a well-constructed, irrigated wetland. It is normally established in the uplands with a low water table. The entire area has a dike created from the topsoil and is often laser leveled to prevent drainage. A solid foundation of sand becomes the bed of the wetlands. The dikes are erected with irrigation and equipment to service the bed.
Once the wetland is ready, vines from an established bed are brought to the new field and allowed to grow roots. After the roots are set and the new shoots begin, the plants are watered frequently and lightly fertilized with nitrogen during its first year. Cranberries are not grown in water as so many people erroneously believe.
Water is only used during harvest and during times when it is cold enough for frost to cause harm to the fruit. The water protects the crop during the winter. During harvest, water is used to make the collection of cranberries easier and faster. It is also common for more sand to be sprinkled over the area to control pests and add life to the vines after harvesting is completed.
Worldwide, the cranberries can be grown in the Northern Hemisphere in cool temperatures. In North America, the areas included in the range are the northern states of the US and the southern parts of the Canadian provinces. The majority of the production of the cranberries is done in Massachusetts, New Jersey, Wisconsin, Oregon, Washington, Quebec, and British Columbia.