760 Vaccinium stamineumCommon Names: deerberry, tall deerberry, squaw huckleberry, buckberry Family: Ericaceae (heath Family)
Deerberry is an open, airy shrub, often with multiple trunks. It can get as tall as 10-15 ft (3.1-4.6 m) and spread out just as much. Most deerberry bushes are only 3-6 ft (0.9-1.8 m) tall, though. The trunks are twisted and contorted and cloaked in thin reddish brown bark that shreds and peels. The deciduous leaves are egg-shaped, 1-3 in (2.5-7.6 cm) long and distinctively whitish beneath. Deerberry flowers are distinctive, too. They are bell-shaped, and the cluster of yellowish stamens looks like a tiny shaving brush extending beyond the white petals. The flowers come out about the same time as the leaves in early spring. The berries are pale bluish to purple and usually sweet-spicy tasting, a little reminiscent of lady's perfume, although some bushes produce sour or even slightly bitter berries. They are rather typical looking blueberries, about a 0.25-5 in (0.6-1.3 cm) in diameter with numerous small seeds. Berries appear in late spring or summer. Leaves turn red and orange before falling in late autumn. This is a highly variable species that has, from time to time, been divided into several species and varieties. There are a dozen or more synonyms in the literature.
There are dozens of species of blueberries (genus Vaccinium) in the U.S., but this one is easy to recognize by its leaves that are conspicuously whitish underneath, and its flowers that have the stamens extending conspicuously beyond the corolla.
Deerberry, Vaccinium stamineum, grows in open woods and in dry, upland communities from central Florida to east Texas and north to Missouri, Indiana, southern Ontario and Maine. It grows on well drained, acidic, sandy soils, and sometimes forms colonies by underground runners.
CultureMost blueberries, deerberry included, need acidic and well drained soils. Deerberry does best on sandy soils. Never add lime to the soil, and if your soil is already limey or calcareous, forget about growing any of the blueberries. Light: In the wild, deerberry usually is found in light or partial shade, in openings in the woods. Cultivated specimens do well in full sun or in partial shade. Moisture: Established deerberries can tolerate droughts, and do nicely on as little as 30in of rain a year. Hardiness: USDA Zones 5 - 9. Propagation: Deerberry can be grown from seed. The seeds can be cleaned by macerating the berries in water for a few days, then using an ordinary household blender to separate them from the pulp. The seeds can be stored dry in a refrigerator for years. It's quicker to propagate deerberry from softwood cuttings taken from one year old shoots in midsummer. Take 4 in (10.2 cm) cuttings a 0.25-0.5 in (0.6-1.3 cm) in diameter and leave a "heel" on them. Remove all but the top two or three leaves and insert in a sandy potting mix. They should develop roots within four weeks.
Deerberry makes an attractive specimen shrub, and a valuable wildlife plant for natural areas. It also can be used in an informal mixed hedge, or as a background shrub in a mixed border. Deerberry can be trained treelike to a single leader or allowed to grow with multiple trunks. The distorted and crooked trunks and branches are very attractive either way.
Deerberry is an important wildlife food in eastern North America. Many kinds of songbirds eat the berries and white-tailed deer eat the leaves, twigs and berries. The berries are also relished by ruffed grouse, bobwhite quail, wild turkeys, foxes, raccoons, black bears, chipmunks and squirrels, not to mention Floridata writers.
There are more than 400 species of blueberries (genus Vaccinium) occurring in the northern hemisphere from the Arctic Circle to mountains in the tropics; there are even a few species in southern Africa. Most of the cultivated blueberries were derived from the highbush blueberry (V. corymbosum) of eastern North America, or the rabbit-eye blueberry (V. ashei), of the southeastern U.S. Cranberries (V. macrocarpon are blueberries too. The true huckleberries (genus Gaylussacia) differ from the blueberries in having yellow resinous dots on the undersides of their leaves and black berries that have 10 large seeds and scattered hairs on the surface.
Steve Christman 8/8/00; updated 2/25/04, 11/27/11