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J Chem Ecol. 2010 Sep;36(9):1017-28. doi: 10.1007/s10886-010-9836-9. Epub 2010 Aug 19.

Phenolic composition and antioxidant capacity of bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus) leaves in Northern Europe following foliar development and along environmental gradients.

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Finnish Forest Research Institute, Rovaniemi Unit, P.O. Box 16, FI-96301, Rovaniemi, Finland.


Bilberry is a characteristic field layer species in the boreal forests and is an important forage plant for herbivores of the North European ecosystem. Bilberry leaves contain high levels of phenolic compounds, especially hydroxycinnamic acids, flavonols, catechins, and proanthocyanidins. We investigated the phenolic composition of bilberry leaves in two studies, one following foliar development in forest and open areas, and the other along a wide geographical gradient from south to north boreal forests in Finland. An analysis of bilberry leaves collected in open and forest areas showed that major phenolic changes appeared in the first stages of leaf development, but, most importantly, synthesis and accumulation of flavonoids was delayed in the forest compared to the high light sites. Sampling along a geographical gradient in the boreal zone indicated that leaves from higher latitudes and higher altitudes had greater soluble phenolic and flavonol levels, higher antioxidant capacity, and lower contents of chlorogenic acid derivatives. The ecological significance of the results is discussed.

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