Wild Blueberries for the Taking

So, who doesn’t love blueberries? OK, two people! 😊 For the rest of us, eating fresh blueberries is a treat that usually comes in late May or June when the local u-pick crops are ready or the fresh markets have them for sale.

Indeed, those large, plump, juicy blueberries are yummy anyway you choose to eat them. But, you don’t have to wait until early summer to enjoy wild blueberries, some of which may be growing in your backyard or along your favorite nature trail.

The larger cultivated blueberries grown in commercial orchards or those that you might have planted in your yard are named varieties of our native highbush blueberry, Vaccinium corymbosum. Highbush refers to their natural heights from three to six feet.

On a more local level, there are at least seven species of wild blueberries or huckleberries, all of which produce smaller, but equally sweet fruit, if you know where and what to look for. The first of these to bloom is Elliott’s Blueberry (Vaccinium elliottii), common in local wet or dry woodlands, where it can reach heights of six to seven feet. Flowers appear in late January with fruit ready to eat by late April.

The succession of species that follow include five species of lowbush blueberries that rarely reach heights above 12 inches with four of these forming large patches of stems interconnected through underground stolons, especially in fire-adapted wet pine and dry pine forests.

In drier sites, Deerberry (Vaccinium stamineum), Darrow’s blueberry (Vaccinium darrowii), Shiny Blueberry (Vaccinium myrsinites), and Dwarf Huckleberry (Gaylussacia dumosa) begin blooming in late February and early March. Woolly Huckleberry (Gaylussacia mosieri) prefers wetter sites, blooming at the same time.

The largest of our blueberry plants and the latest blooming and fruiting, is Farkleberry or Tree Huckleberry (Vaccinium arboretum), a multi-stemmed small tree, reaching heights of 10-15 feet. Berries of this species are best used in making jelly.

So, there you have it, a challenge to find these hidden blueberries in the corners of our natural world, ready for the picking … and eating. Elliott’s blueberries are in full bloom now! Get out and find yourself some. Hopefully, you will remember where they are in April when the fruit are ready to enjoy.

Hope to see you in our great outdoors!

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Written by Mark W. LaSalle, Ph.D.

Mark is a naturalist and wetland ecologist, providing expertise on wetlands, water quality and environmental impacts of humans. He has also developed and conducted a number of environmental education programs and workshops for youth, teachers, realtors, and the general public on a variety of subjects including wetlands, natural history, and environmental landscaping. Mark is a graduate of the University of Southwestern Louisiana (B.S. and M.S. degrees) and Mississippi State University (Ph.D.). Mark is the recipient of the Chevron Conservation Award, the Mississippi Wildlife Federation Conservation Educator Award, the Gulf Guardian Award, and the Boy Scouts of America Silver Beaver Award.

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