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Vaccinium corymbosum (blueberry)

Blueberry is cultivated in North America and Europe for its edible fruits, which have been promoted as an antioxidant-containing 'superfood'.

Vaccinium corymbosum (blueberry) fruits

Vaccinium corymbosum fruits (Photo: Wolfgang Stuppy)

Species information

Scientific name: 

Vaccinium corymbosum L.

Common name: 

blueberry, northern highbush blueberry, swamp blueberry (English); airelle d'Amérique, bluet en corymbe (French); arándano americano (Spanish); amerikanskt blåbär (Swedish).

Conservation status: 

Widespread in cultivation.

Habitat: 

Moist woods, bogs, open swamps, ponds, streams, sandy margins of lakes, grey-birch scrub, pine barrens, mires, upland ericaceous meadows, ravines and mountain summits.

Key Uses: 

Food, drink, ornamental.

Known hazards: 

None known.

Taxonomy

Subclass: 
Superorder: 
Asteranae
Order: 
Ericales
Family: 
Ericaceae
Genus: Vaccinium

About this species

Vaccinium corymbosum is cultivated in North America and West and Central Europe for its edible fruits, which are used to make pies, muffins, jams and syrups. It is a member of the heather, strawberry tree and rhododendron family (Ericaceae). There are about 500 species in the genus Vaccinium, including V. myrtillus (bilberry), V. oxycoccus (cranberry), V. macrocarpum (large American cranberry) and V. vitis-idaea (lingonberry or cowberry).

Vaccinium corymbosum was described by Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus in 1753 from material collected by Peter Kalm in eastern North America. The generic name Vaccinium is from the Latin for blueberry and the specific epithet corymbosum refers to the umbrella-like inflorescences.

Synonym: 

Cyanococcus corymbosus (L.) Rydb., Vaccinium atlanticum E.P. Bicknell, V.constablaei A. Gray

Genus: 
Vaccinium

Discover more

Geography and distribution

Vaccinium corymbosum (blueberry) farm

Blueberry farm in Rustenburg, South Africa (Photo: Wolfgang Stuppy)

Vaccinium corymbosum is native to eastern USA and Canada, where it is found at up to 1,600 m above sea level.

It is cultivated in many countries, including the USA, Canada, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Mexico, Argentina, Uruguay and Chile.

Description

Overview: An erect, deciduous shrub up to 1.5 m tall, sometimes producing suckers.

Leaves: Dark green, up to 7.0 × 2.5 cm, slightly leathery, sometimes with sharply toothed margins.

Flowers: Lantern-like (urceolate) with white or pink petals. Stamens (male parts) with hairy filaments.

Fruits: A berry, pale green, turning reddish-purple then dull blue-black on maturity, with a waxy blue-grey bloom, hairless, up to 12 mm in diameter.

Seeds: Viable seeds large, brown, up to 17 per fruit. Imperfect seeds small, pale, up to 38 per fruit.

Uses

Food and drink

Blueberry fruits are eaten raw, used to produce juice or processed into products including jams, syrups, pies, muffins, breakfast cereals and cereal bars.

Blueberries contain moderate levels of vitamin C, vitamin K, manganese and dietary fibre. They are promoted as a ‘superfood’, particularly in relation to their antioxidant properties.

Medicinal

Blueberries contain antioxidant anthocyanins, which have been alleged to increase communication between brain cells, and hence may have a role in preventing age-related memory-loss.

The fruits also contain ellagic acid, which is considered to be potentially effective against cancer.

Ornamental

Blueberry is also cultivated as an ornamental and makes a good container plant or border shrub. In addition to the attractive flowers and foliage of many cultivars, growers benefit from a harvest of edible fruits.

Vaccinium corymbosum (blueberry) fruits3

Vaccinium corymbosum fruits (Photo: Wolfgang Stuppy)

Cultivation

Mature blueberry seeds should be placed on top of a peat-sand (in equal parts) mixture and kept in a misting chamber. When the seed-leaves emerge, the pots should be moved to a greenhouse bench and watered daily.

Blueberry can be grown in acid soils (with a pH of 2.7–6.6) and tolerates low levels of nitrogen and phosphorus.

This species at Kew

Blueberry can be seen growing around Kew’s Woodland Glade and Waterlily Pond.

Pressed and dried specimens of Vaccinium corymbosum are held in Kew’s Herbarium where they are available to researchers by appointment. The details of some of these specimens, including images, can be seen online in Kew’s Herbarium Catalogue.

View details and images of specimens

A specimen of wood from Vaccinium corymbosum is held in Kew’s Economic Botany Collection in the Sir Joseph Banks Building, where it is available to researchers by appointment.

References and credits

Mabberley, D. J. (2008). Mabberley’s Plant-book: a Portable Dictionary of Plants, their Classification and Uses. 3rd edition. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK.

Vander Colet, S. P. (1980). The taxonomy of the highbush blueberry, Vaccinium corymbosum. Canadian Journal of Botany 58:1195.

Vander Colet, S. P. (2009). Vaccinium. Flora of North America 8: 551–530.

Vaughan, J. G. & Geissler, C. A. (2009). The New Oxford Book of Food Plants, 2nd Edition. Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK.

Kew science editor: Lulu Rico
Kew contributors: Emma Tredwell
Copyediting: Emma Tredwell

Although every effort has been taken to ensure that the information contained in these pages is reliable and complete, notes on hazards, edibility and suchlike included here are recorded information and do not constitute recommendations. No responsibility will be taken for readers’ own actions.

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