Plant productivity and fruit quality in terms of occurrence of mineral elements and metabolites were determined on wild bilberry growing in open and forest stands in a protected area of N-Italy. Plant productivity was significantly higher in open stands (3 ± 2.5 compared with 0.03 ± 0.05 fruits per plant) suggesting that both collections in the wild and semi-wild cultivation should be planned in open habitats. Results obtained by ionomic and metabolomic analyses indicated that high quality fruits can be collected in the analyzed area and their nutritional profile did not differ between open and forest stands. Cyanidin and delphinidin proportion of bilberries from our study area was respectively 23.8% and 43.9% of total antocyanin and it is similar to that previously considered peculiar to bilberry fruits of high latitude regions of Europe and indicative of high quality food properties. A comparison between wild bilberry collected in the protected area and commercial blueberry was also performed and relevant differences between them detected, confirming the concept that wild bilberry has a better nutritional profile than blueberry.
Practical Application Bilberry fruits provide relevant nutrients to human diet. However, the scarce availability in the wild is a limiting factor hindering a wider use of this product. In this study we compared plant productivity and nutritional profile of bilberry growing in open and forest sites, demonstrating that they do not differ in terms of mineral and metabolomic contents, whereas plant productivity is by far higher in open sites. This supports the possibility to obtain bilberry fruits by semiwild cultivation maintaining open sites that are also crucial for biodiversity conservation in mountain areas.