Highbush Blueberry (Corymbosum)

The Highbush Blueberry (Corymbosum) is generally described as a perennial shrub. This is native to the U.S. (United States) has its most active growth period in the spring and summer . The greatest bloom is usually observed in the early summer, with fruit and seed production starting in the summer and continuing until summer. Leaves are not retained year to year. The Highbush Blueberry (Corymbosum) has a moderate life span relative to most other plant species and a moderate growth rate. At maturity, the typical Highbush Blueberry (Corymbosum) will reach up to 12 feet high, with a maximum height at 20 years of 12 feet.

The Highbush Blueberry (Corymbosum) is easily found in nurseries, garden stores and other plant dealers and distributors. It can be propagated by bare root, container, cuttings, seed. It has a slow ability to spread through seed production and the seedlings have low vigor. Note that cold stratification is not required for seed germination and the plant cannot survive exposure to temperatures below -33°F. has low tolerance to drought and restricted water conditions.

Uses of : Landscaping, Medicinal, Culinary, etc.

Highbush blueberry is the major blueberry of commerce. It is extensively cultivated in New Jersey, Michigan, North Carolina, and Washington and to a lesser extent in Georgia, Florida, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts, British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec, and Nova Scotia. In 1989, there were over 100,000 acres in commercial fruit production in North America. More than 50 cultivars highbush blueberry have been developed, primarily based on selections for commercially valuable fruit characteristics and seasonality. Good summaries of information relating to commercial fruit production are available (see Reiger 2000; Garrison 1998). A few selections are used in landscaping, especially where they might be planted in wet places and to attract wildlife.

The berries are eaten raw, smoke­dried, sun-dried, boiled, and baked -- in a wide variety of culinary settings. They have one of the highest concentrations of iron of the temperate fruits. The fruits provide important summer and early fall food for numerous species of game birds, songbirds, and mammals.

General Characteristics

General: Heath family (Ericaceae). Native shrubs 2-3(-4) meters tall, crown-forming, forming dense colonies, the twigs warty and yellow-green, glabrous. Leaves deciduous, alternate, simple, narrow to broadly elliptic or ovate, 3.8-8.2 cm long, pubescent at least on the veins beneath, slightly waxy above, the edges smooth and ciliate to toothed. Flowers 8-10 in a cluster, 6-12 mm long, urn-shaped, white, with 5 petals. Fruits berries are 5-12 mm wide, blue to blue-black and many-seeded. The common name refers to the relatively tall stature of these plants.

Variation within the species: The highbush blueberry complex is highly variable and includes diploids, tetraploids, hexaploids, and various hybrid combinations. Recent studies (Vander Kloet in 1980 and 1988) have recommended treating the complex very broadly, using only the single name V. corymbosum, but not all authors have accepted that (for example, see Uttall 1986, 1987). As treated in the PLANTS database, the complex includes a group of interrelated species that have generally been recognized as “highbush” blueberries – these species* (or hybrids), with synonyms, are listed below.

* Vaccinium X atlanticum Bicknell * Vaccinium corymbosum L. synonym: Vaccinium constablaei Gray * Vaccinium formosum Andr. synonym: Vaccinium australe Small * Vaccinium fuscatum Ait. synonym: Vaccinium arkansanum Ashe synonym Vaccinium atrococcum (Gray) Heller synonym Vaccinium fuscatum Aiton *Vaccinium simulatum Small *Vaccinium virgatum Ait. synonym: Vaccinium amoenum Aiton synonym: Vaccinium ashei Reade

Highbush blueberry (V. corymbosum) hybridizes with one of the “lowbush” blueberries (V. angustifolium Ait.). Hybrids used in commercial fruit production are V. corymbosum X V. darrowi (southern highbush blueberry), (V. arboreum X V. darrowi) x V. corymbosum (pollen donor), and southern highbush blueberry hybrids X V. simulatum.

Required Growing Conditions

Widespread in eastern North America, from Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec, and Ontario, Maine to Wisconsin, southward to South Carolina and Georgia and along the Gulf coast to Arkansas, Louisiana, east Texas, and Oklahoma. It has been introduced outside of its natural range for commercial berry production in Wisconsin, Washington, British Columbia, and New Brunswick. For current distribution, please consult the Plant Profile page for this species on the PLANTS Web site.

Adaptation Highbush blueberry grows best and most commonly in moist or wet peat of moderate to high acidity – in and around marshes, swamps, and lakes, often with extended flooding, as well as on floodplains, sheltered slopes, and ravines. It also occurs in drier areas – dunes and barrier beaches, rocky hillsides, oak woods, and pine woods. It occurs as a dominant or co-dominant on Appalachian heath balds. All of these are more or less open sites, and because of its shade intolerance, highbush blueberry can be eliminated as shading increases with overstory cover. Flowering (February-)March-June, sporadically in the southern portion of its range; fruiting (April-)May-October, about 62 days after flowering.

Cultivation and Care

Highbush blueberry produces abundant fruit every year. Bees are the primary pollinator. The seeds may be widely dispersed in bird and mammal droppings, but germination success can be reduced up to 15% after passing through an animal gut. In the southern portion of its range, highbush blueberry seeds have thick seed coats and require cold stratification before germination. Those from northern regions produce thinner seed coats and germinate in the autumn after dispersal. Some reports describe vigorous sprouting from the root-crown in highbush blueberry after top-kill by fire or disturbance, while others note that sprouting is uncommon. This perhaps reflects the variability (and perhaps the taxonomic uncertainty) that exists within the species complex. Plants also have been noted to occasionally produce root sprouts 1-2 meters away from the parent.

General Upkeep and Control

Seeds or cuttings can propagate plants of highbush blueberry. Ideal soil for cultivation is moist high in organic matter, highly acidic (4.5-5.5), and well drained. The plants grow in full sun to partial shade, but those in open sites produce more flowers and have brighter fall foliage color. Highbush blueberry (V. corymbosum) is self-fertile, but cross-pollination increases fruit set and results in larger, earlier berries with more seeds (see Agriculture Western Australia 2000). Other species of the complex are partially or completely self-incompatible.

Plant Basics
Growth Rate Moderate
General Type Shrub
Growth Period Spring, Summer
Growth Duration Perennial
Lifespan Moderate
Plant Nativity Native to U.S.
Commercial Availability Routinely Available
Physical Characteristics
Bloom Period Early Summer
Displays Fall Colors Yes
Shape/Growth Form Multiple Stem
Drought Tolerance Low
Shade Tolerance Tolerant
Height When Mature 12
Vegetative Spread None
Flower Color White
Flower Conspicuousness No
Fruit/Seed Abundance Medium
Fruit/Seed Seasonality Summer Summer
Seed Spread Rate Slow
Gardening Characteristics
Propagations (Ways to Grow) Bare Root, Container, Cuttings, Seed
Moisture Requirements Medium
Cold Stratification Required No
Minimum Temperature -33
Soil Depth for Roots 16
Toxic to Nearby Plants No
Toxic to Livestock No
After-Harvest Resprout Ability Yes
Responds to Coppicing No
Growth Requirements
pH Range 4.7–7.5 pH
Precipitation Range 32–32 inches/yr
Planting Density 1200–1700 indiv./acre
Soil Textures Coarse, Fine, Medium
Soil Depth for Roots 16
Minimum Frost-Free Days 100 day(s)
Salinity Tolerance High
CaCO3 Tolerance Low
Sustainability & Use
Leaf Retention No
Palatability Medium
Fire Resistant No
Causes Livestock Bloating None

Source: USDA, NRCS, PLANTS Database, plants.usda.gov.
National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA