1216 Vaccinium corymbosumCommon Names: highbush blueberry Family: Ericaceae (heath Family)
Highbush blueberry is a deciduous, much branched shrub usually around 4-6 ft (1-2 m) tall, but sometimes getting almost treelike and up to 16 ft (5 m) in height. Highbush blueberry is similar to Mayberry (Vaccinium elliottii) in most respects, but has larger leaves and blooms later in the season. Highbush blueberry leaves are usually 2-3 in (5-8 cm) long and 1-2 in (3-5 cm) wide, whereas those of Mayberry rarely exceed an inch (2.5 cm) in length and a half inch (1.25 cm) in width. Mayberry blooms in late winter, but highbush blueberry doesn’t bloom until spring. In northern Florida, Mayberry fruits are pretty much finished by June, whereas highbush blueberry fruits last until late summer.
Highbush blueberry is widely cultivated for its delicious berries and there are a great many named selections and hybrids. Local plant nurseries and extension agents are the best places to learn which highbush cultivars are best adapted to your area. Most highbush blueberry cultivars are best suited for zones 4-6 and the rabbiteye (V. ashei) cultivars are better for more southern climes. However, in the last few decades several cultivars of highbush blueberry specifically developed for southern areas, even Florida, have been introduced. Many of these are hybrids between highbush and rabbiteye, and they ripen before both species. ‘Sapphire’, ‘Flordablue’, ‘Misty’, ‘Santa Fe’ and ‘Sharpblue’ are listed as suitable for much of the Florida peninsula. In recent years (since the 1990s or so) the commercial cultivation of highbush blueberry varieties in Florida has surpassed that of the rabbiteye cultivars. This is because they ripen earlier than rabbiteyes and thus bring a premium price at market.
Vaccinium corymbosum occurs naturally in a wide range of habitats including swamps, flood plains, pine flatwoods, high pine (sandhills), turkey oak barrens, scrub, coastal hammocks and mixed forests. The species is native to eastern North America from Quebec and Ontario, south to northern Florida and Texas. It has become naturalized in parts of the pacific Northwest and in Europe and Japan where it and its hybrids and cultivars are grown for the edible berries.
Highbush blueberry, like the other blueberries, needs an acidic soil with a pH in the range of 4.8 to 5.2. Light: Fruiting is best when the plants are positioned in full sun, but highbush blueberry does just fine in partial shade. In the wild, in fact, highbush blueberry is almost always in some kind of shade. When you find one in a sunny spot under a power line, on a road shoulder, or on the edge of an opening, you will find a healthy, robust shrub that produces lots of berries. Moisture: Highbush blueberry needs a well drained soil, but with frequent watering for best results. Hardiness: USDA Zones 3 - 8. Highbush blueberry needs a well drained soil, but with frequent watering for best results. Propagation:
Highbush blueberry cultivars and hybrids with other blueberry species are grown for the berries throughout much of their natural range. Even the wild, uncultivated plants produce outstanding berries. But this is also a nice looking shrub, and certainly a good choice for a mixed shrub border, or in a naturalistic woodland planting. It should go without saying that birds and other wildlife are very fond of the berries too.
The southeastern “highbush” blueberries are a confusing group. (Confusing to the taxonomists, that is.) Some authorities recognize a dozen species; others only one. A consensus may be emerging that distinguishes three species, and these are profiled on Floridata: Vaccinium corymbosum, the highbush blueberry; V. elliottii, the Mayberry; and V. ashei, the rabbiteye blueberry. The other southeastern blueberries (V. myrsinites, shiny blueberry; V. darrowii, glaucus blueberry; V. stamineum, deerberry; and V. arborea, sparkleberry; are much better defined and much easier to identify. Don’t even try to figure out which species are involved in the parentage of named blueberry cultivars!
Steve Christman 6/10/14