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This low-growing shrub typically grows 1 to 2-1/2 feet tall in full or part sun and produces generous amounts of delicious blueberries. The urn-shaped, white to pink flowers bloom May to June and are unique in that they are the only native blueberry flowers to occur in clusters. The flower's triangular-lobed calyx is also unusual; the only other native to display this characteristic is the bog blueberry (V. uliginosum). The flowers give way to delicious fruits that ripen with a whitish bloom from July to August. Also known as Canadian blueberry and sourtop blueberry, "velvetleaf" refers to the dense hairs that cover the leaves and stems. It spreads via rhizomes to form dense colonies in a variety of conditions, from dry, sandy or rocky soils to rich, moist soils in marshes or bogs. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) says this species is usually found in "acidic soils in moist woods, swamps, clearings and, rarely, dry upland woods." It's listed as endangered or extirpated, and ODNR recommends looking for wild specimens in suitable habitats throughout northeastern Ohio. 

 

Velvetleaf blueberry is native to much of the northern and eastern US and throughout Canada. It's often found growing and hybridizing with lowbush blueberry (V. angustifolium), which is easily distinguished by its mostly hairless leaves. Velvetleaf is tolerant of fires and often appears in abundance following forest fires or clear-cut logging.

 

Native habitats include meadows, swamps, marshes, open forests, barren or disturbed ground, pine barrens, and woodland edges.

 

Plant Characteristics:

Grows in full or part sun.

 

Grows 1-3' tall.

 

Prefers acidic and moist soils, including loamy, sandy, and rocky.

 

Clusters of a few to several short-stalked, bell-like flowers bloom in May or June at the ends of one-year-old twigs. The flowers are around ¼" long with 5 fused, pink to white petals with triangular tips that curl back. Brown, tubular stamens surround a single green style in the center of the tube. The hairless, green calyx has 5 broadly triangular lobes. Round berries are 1/4-1/3" around with a waxy, powdery-blue coating.

 

Elliptical, leathery, smooth-edged leaves are simple and alternate, short stalked to nearly stalkless, and  ¾ -2" long. Upper surface is dark green with an opaque luster and dense, fine hairs, and lower surface is similar but lighter green.

 

Twigs are green when young but may mature with brown, red, or purple tones and are covered in fine hairs. 

 

Wildlife Value:

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.Deer, foxes, porcupines, raccoons, wild turkeys, and various other bird species feed on the fruits. Deer and rabbits browse on the leaves.

 

Medicinal, Edible, and Other Uses:

Many Native American nations used the fruits as a staple in their diets.

 

The fruits may be eaten fresh or used in pies, preserves, and a variety of dishes. They may also be dried for later use.

 

The Nihithawak Cree use a decoction of leafy stems to initiate menstruation or slow excessive bleeding, to prevent pregnancy, to make a person sweat, and to prevent miscarriage (Wild Plant Use by the Woods Cree of East-Central Saskatchewan, 1985)

Blueberry, velvetleaf, Vaccinium myrtilloides

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