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Vaccinium corymbosum L.

Highbush Blueberry

Modern name

Vaccinium corymbosum L.

A deciduous shrub, 4 to 12 ft high, forming a dense thicket of erect, much-branched stems; young shoots downy to nearly glabrous. Leaves ovate to oval-lanceshaped, 1 to 312 in. long, half as wide; tapering at both ends, very shortly stalked, downy beneath on the midrib and veins, not toothed. Flowers produced during May in a series of short, few-flowered clusters near and at the leafless ends of the previous season’s twigs. Corolla cylindrical, but narrowed near the mouth, 14 to 12 in. long, white or pale pink. Berries black, covered with a blue bloom, and from 14 to 12 in. wide, variable in size, colour, and flavour.

Native of eastern N. America; introduced in 1765. In British gardens this is the commonest, often the only N. American vaccinium. It not only grows well and blossoms freely, but its leaves turn to beautiful shades of red before falling in the autumn.

V. corymbosum is a very variable species, which has been shown to be polyploid and may be the result of hybridisation in post-glacial times between species that survived the Ice Age in southern habitats. Numerous variants have been named, and the following are still recognised in recent works of American botany:

f. albiflorum (Hook.) Camp V. albiflorum Hook.; V. corymbosum var. amoenum A. Gr., not V. amoenum Ait.; V. c. var. albiflorum (Hook.) Fern. – Like the type in habit, but with the leaves minutely toothed, and hairy on the margins when young. Bot. Mag., t. 3428.

f. glabrum (A. Gr.) Camp V. corymbosum var. pallidum A. Gr., not V. pallidum Ait. – Leaves bluish beneath, and glabrous except for the minutely toothed ciliate margins. Berries deep blue.

V. atrococcum (A. Gr.) Heller V. corymbosum var. atrococcum A. Gr. – Near to V. corymbosum but with much more downy leaves, and often broader and shorter corollas, and black fruits. It is almost as widely distributed in the wild as V. corymbosum.

The highbush blueberries are now an important soft fruit in eastern N. America, where some 20,000 acres are devoted to their cultivation. The first of the named commercial clones were selected in the wild, or bred, by Frederick V. Coville early this century, and released to the trade from the 1920s onwards. They derive partly from V. corymbosum and partly from the closely related but more southern V. ashei, not treated here. Many of these, and others of more recent raising, are available in Britain, and could well be planted in place of unselected forms, for the autumn colour is usually as good and the fruits both larger and more abundant. But two or more clones should be grown together, as cross-pollination is necessary to ensure a good set of full-sized fruits. Netting against birds is essential and the older wood should be cut out periodically, since the quality and quantity of the fruit falls off once the laterals become twiggy. See further in Journ. R.H.S., Vol. 98 (1973), pp. 401-4.



Other species in the genus