With the right conditions, you can grow delicious wild blueberries in your yard! This small deciduous shrub is acid-loving and grows best in well-drained sandy soils or in soils high in organic matter. Full sun produces the highest yield of berries, but the plant will also flower and fruit in part sun. Clusters of white, pink-tinged flowers hang like little bells amid the glossy foliage, giving way to blue or black fruits with intense blueberry flavor. The plants grow two feet tall and wide and spread by seeds and rhizomes to form an edible, shrubby groundcover. Lowbush blueberry is considered to be self-pollinating, but fruit set is greatly increased when different varieties of the same species are planted together. Various types of bees, including 14 species of specialist bees, visit for nectar and pollen. Bumble bees are especially effective pollinators due to their ability to “sonicate,” or buzz, the flowers, which releases additional pollen. Once the spring flowers have been pollinated, berries appear and ripen mid to late summer. While smaller than highbush blueberries, lowbush berries are more flavorful and nutritious. In a few eastern states, they are grown commercially by managing wild patches. Because they are so difficult to transport when fresh, 90 percent of the highly nutritious fruits are immediately frozen for purchase.
V. angustifolium is a high-interest plant that’s great for wildlife. In addition to the tubular flowers and blue fruits, it has attractive foliage. Angustifolium is a combination of Latin words meaning “narrow” and “leaf.” The plant has spreading branches with elliptical leaves that emerge reddish green in spring, changing to blue-green in summer and reddish purple in fall.
Lowbush blueberry thrives in the right conditions and is fairly easy to maintain. Plant plugs, rhizomes, or seedlings in well-drained soil mixed with peat, compost, or sawdust. Amend to a pH of 4.5 to 5.2 using sulfur or ammonium sulfate. Keep watered during the growing season and put a thin layer of organic mulch around plants to protect the roots and preserve soil moisture. Remove the flowers, which develop on the previous year’s twigs, from each plant for the first year or two to develop a strong root system. Prune after harvest every other year to remove older growth and maintain berry production. Larger patches can be mowed in the fall to rejuvenate plants.
Native habitats include sandy forest clearings, meadows, near edges of bogs, alpine zones, and old fields. Use it in mass plantings, as a groundcover along borders, in woodland and naturalized areas, and in orchards and edible landscaping. Siting near streets is not recommended as it doesn’t tolerate pollution.
Grows 6-24” tall and wide, spreading by seeds and rhizomes.
Prefers full or part sun. Flowers very little in full shade.
Best growth in moist, acidic, rich soils that are loamy and well-drained.
Clusters of white, bell-shaped flowers are around ¼-½” long with 5 fused petals and triangular tips that curl back. Brown, tubular stamens surround a pale green style in the center of the flower. Round berries are ¼-1/3” in diameter with a waxy, powdery-blue coating.
Smooth, glossy leaves are alternate, up to 1-1/2” long, and have margins with minute serrations. Leaves turn various shades of red in the fall.
Multiple stems and branches are fine, smooth, and reddish green when young, becoming reddish brown or gray and scaly when mature. Rhizomes can lie dormant for up to 100 years, sprouting when conditions are ideal.
Vaccinium is a host plant to 223 species of Lepidoptera larvae, including pale tiger and huckleberry sphinx moths, pink-edged sulphur butterfly (both pictured here), chain-dotted geometer and blueberry leaftier moths, and specialist Cerastis fishii. The fruits are eaten by terrestrial turtles, coyotes, raccoons, foxes, porcupines, deer, and many species of birds, including ruffed grouse, wild turkey, blue jays, robins, yellow-breasted chats, wood thrushes, and eastern bluebirds. The dense branching provides excellent cover for ground-nesting birds and other wildlife, including the endangered Kirtland’s warbler.
Medicinal, Edible, and Other Uses:
Jesuit missionary Paul Le Jeune noted that “some of (the Native Americans) imagine a Paradise abounding in blueberries.” They made great use of the plant, both as medicine and as food. They used an infusion of leaves to treat colds, colic, and miscarriage. Traditionally, the fruits were dried and mixed with moose fat and deer tallow to preserve them. Later, the fruits were eaten throughout the winter and made into pemmican or mixed with cornmeal for a favorite dish that was also popular among the colonists. They used the roots to brew a tea.
Blueberries are high in vitamin C, dietary fiber, anthocyanins, and tannins. They contain no fat or sodium and are only 80 calories per cup. Wild blueberries are said to contain twice as many antioxidants as larger, commercial blueberries. The flavonoids may help to improve memory and age-related decline in mental function. Current uses include supporting the digestive, endocrine, and urinary systems. Some studies indicate that lowbush blueberries can be used against food-borne pathogens.
The fruit can be used to make a wide variety of food products, such as smoothies, sauces, baked goods, jams, juices, and teas. They also make a healthy topping for salads, cereal, or yogurt.
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