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Know Your Blueberry

About North Carolina’s Blueberries

Could Blueberries be the perfect fruit?

Compact, tasty, and packed with health supporting nutrients, blueberries rank as one of nature’s super foods. Blueberries have two cousins, the bog-loving cranberry and the European bilberry. Bilberries look similar to the blueberry, but are smaller, darker colored, and have reddish-purple pulp versus the light green of the native North America blueberry.

What is a highbush blueberry?

The most common cultivated blueberry type is Vaccinium corynmbodsum or Northern Highbush Blueberry. In the southeastern United States, Southern Highbush and “rabbiteye”  blueberries are also commercially important. Southern Highbush cultivars, like the “rabbiteye” cultivars produce better in warmer climates, tolerate droughts and have lower chill requirements. Rabbiteye blueberries get their name because they are pinkish, resembling the eyes of albino rabbits till they ripen.

Which is taller, highbush or rabbiteye?

Rabbiteye blueberries can grow up to twenty feet tall making them the taller blueberry bush! Highbush blueberries run six to twelve feet tall. Rabbiteye blueberry varieties bloom earlier, but highbush blueberries ripens earlier.

Highbush versus lowbush blueberries?

Lowbush blueberries were the type enjoyed by the indigenous peoples and early European settlers of  the North America. That changed in the late 1800’s when Elizabeth Colman White convinced her family to underwrite the research of Dr. Frederick A. Coville (US Dept of Agriculture). The collaboration resulted in the first hybrid, highbush blueberry varieties.  Lowbush blueberry varieties are typically marketed as “wild” blueberries.

Lowbush blueberries, Vaccinium angustifolium, are commercially important to Maine and Canada. Fire hardy, lowbush blueberry “barrens” are still managed by burning off top cover.

Half-high Blueberries?

Yes, there is a fifth type of commercially important blueberry! Half-high blueberry varieties grow two to four fee tall and are a hybrid of highbush and wild lowbush blueberries. They are also popular as ornamental landscape.

Unless you ask the farmer…

There is no differentiation between blueberry types in the market. Some would suggest highbush blueberries are better for fresh fruit whereas rabbiteyes are preferred for freezing and other processing. Popular highbush blueberries varieties include: Duke, New Hanover, Farthing, Abundance, Reb, O’Neal, Star, Legacy and Emerald. Columbus, Brightwell, Tifblue, and Powder Blue are commonly cultivated rabbiteye varieties.