This section is from the book "Sub-Alpine Plants Or Flowers Of The Swiss Woods And Meadows", by H. Stuart Thompson. Also available from Amazon: Sub-Alpine Plants: Or, Flowers of the Swiss Woods and Meadows.
The Bilberry Or Whortleberry (Vactinium Myrtilus), which often grows finer in the Alps, and particularly in the Chamonix valley, than at home, was losing its flavour by mid-September last year, when its leaves were turning a brilliant crimson so that mountain sides seemed ablaze with them. But wild Raspberries were even at that late date in the best of condition at about 6000 feet, and as delicately flavoured as any in gardens. The Wild Strawberry also lingered on until plants in some of the higher regions must have been embedded in the first September snows. That year in the Mont Blanc district the first cold spell came about 15th September, but by 1st October the weather was extremely cold and wet, and snow covered the mountains to within a thousand feet of Geneva.
But to return to the Bilberry, whose fruit begins to ripen in sub-alpine regions usually about mid-July, it is interesting to note that not infrequently on the older rocks - it is rarely seen on limestone - this common plant ascends to 9000 feet in the Maritime Alps, as, for example, on Monte Santa Maria, and it may sometimes be found as high in Savoy and in the Southern Swiss Alps. The Bog Whortleberry (Vactinium uliginosum) ascends even higher in Alpine turbaries in Switzerland, where it has been recorded from 3000 metres, or nearly 10,000 feet. Its leaves are bluish green or glaucous on the under side, and always entire (not slightly toothed), and its berries resemble those of the Common Bilberry, but are insipid to the taste, and often rather smaller.
The Cowberry (Vactinium Vitis Idaea) is very beautiful in both flower and fruit. It is a low shrub, sometimes not six inches in height, with wax-like, flesh-coloured blossoms, evergreen leaves, often turning red in autumn, and brilliant scarlet berries which are very attractive. It grows abundantly in Alpine woods and on moors or on beds of mould about rocks from the plains up to 10,000 feet in Switzerland. The Cranberry, of still the same genus (V. oxycoccus), grows only in sphagnum bogs, as in Britain, but its delicate drooping crimson flowers on long slender pedicels are fugitive and very difficult to find, being less conspicuous than the well-known yellowish red fruit. We have not seen the Cranberry at a higher elevation than 5000 feet, as, for example, in the marsh by the picturesque Lac Champex in Switzerland. The stems are very wiry, and the leaves quite small, rolled in at the margin, glossy green above and glaucous beneath.
Closely allied to the Vacciniums are the Bearberries (Arctosta-phylos alpina and A, Uva ursi), both of which are distinctly Alpine in character and habitat, though the latter species descends to the plains in Switzerland. The Alpine Bearberry has black berries, which ripen the second year, and thin, netted veined annual leaves, finely toothed at the margin. The Red Bearberry (Arctostaphylos Uva ursi) has red berries and thick, leathery, evergreen leaves of a glossy green on the upper side, with sunken dots on the under side. It is chiefly found on limestone. Both species are found in Scotland, and the latter appears also in the north of England and north-west Ireland. Sometimes great mats are formed by these prostrate shrubs. The flowers resemble those of the Arbutus more than those of any other plant.