Blueberry grows best in zones 3-9. The plant require Acidic soils, and as wild plants they live in habitats such as heath, Bog and acidic Woodland. The genus contains about 450 species, which are found mostly in the cooler areas of the Northern Hemisphere, although there are tropical species from areas as widely separated as Madagascar and Hawaii. Shrub form, (Evergreen Decidous) has medium berries. The plant structure varies between species; some shrubs trail along the ground, some are Dwarf shrubs, and some are larger shrubs perhaps tall. The Fruit, which is usually brightly coloured red or bluish with purple juice, develops from an inferior ovary and is a Berry. (1) Blueberry plants have a thread-like root mass with no root hairs, which makes them sensitive to fluctuating soil moisture. Low pH mulch like peat moss, pine needles or well aged sawdust conserves water and minimizes soil water fluctuations. Water blueberry plants evenly on all sides of the plant, during the day and keep the soil moist but not soggy. Blueberries need at least 1" of water per week during growing season and up to 4" per week during fruit ripening. Insufficient water, when the buds start to grow in late summer and when fruit is developing the following summer, can lead to smaller berries. An excess of water can lead to large, bland fruit. Sawdust conserves water and minimizes soil water fluctuations. (2) Rhododendrons are great companion plants for blueberries, as they thrive in acidic soil and also provide shade for the plant. Blueberry also attracts bees for pollination. Blueberries also do well with other berry bushes that tolerate acidic soil.
Culinary and Medicinal Uses
Blueberries are rich dietary sources of vitamins C and K and the mineral manganese. The fruit is eaten fresh and prepared in juices, jams and jellies, syrups, sorbets, and compotes, as well as popular baked goods including muffins and pies. They may also be preserved by freezing or drying. (3) Blueberries also have a very high antioxidant content. Blueberries are also popular in baked goods, with granola, cereal, and desserts.
Significance to Cultural Communities
Blueberries were an important food source for native peoples of North America for many centuries, but were generally wild-harvested, sometimes in managed stands, rather than cultivated. The development of cultivated varieties of blueberries occurred only since the late 1800s, making this one of the most recently domesticated fruit crops. (3) Indigenous communities held the wild blueberry in very high esteem, due to the fact that the blossom end of each blueberry forms a five points star. It was believed the "Great Spirit" sent these star berries to relieve the hunger of children during a famine. Indians also used blueberries for medicinal purposes and made a strong aromatic tea from the root. It was used as a relaxant during childbirth. Early medical books show this same tea was used by wives of settlers during labor. Blueberry juice was used for "old coughs" and tea made from Wild Blueberry leaves was believed to be a good tonic to help purify the blood. (4)
1. “Vaccinium.” The Plant Encyclopedia. August 10, 2011. http://www.theplantencyclopedia.org/wiki/Blueberry
2. “Blueberry Bush: Planting, Care, Pruning, and Harvesting Instructions.” Arbor Day Foundation. http://www.arborday.org/trees/fruit/care-blueberry.cfm
3. Courtleau, Jacqueline. “Vaccinium corymbosum: Highbush Blueberry.” Encyclopedia of Life. http://eol.org/pages/484405/overview
4. “A History of Blueberries.” James Bay Wild Fruit. http://www.wildblueberries.net/bluehistory.html