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Vaccinium spp.

Photo: Dr. Robert Polomski

Singing the Blues
The blueberry (Vaccinium spp.) is the quintessential edible landscape plant that offers gustatory and ornamental value. Of course, it’s cultivated for its delicious summer-time fruit – hands down more delicious than serviceberry – but this North American native possesses eye-catching features as well: dark blue-green leaves; bell-shaped, white to pink springtime flowers; stunning fall color that can include mixtures of orange, red and yellow; and colorful red, yellow and green stems in winter. There are more than 150 species of blueberries (Vaccinium spp.) that comprise evergreen, semi-evergreen, or deciduous ground covers, shrubs, and trees, but very few of them are cultivated in our gardens or landscapes.
The most widely cultivated plants are those bred and selected for their edible fruits: northern highbush (V. corymbosum), rabbiteye (V. ashei), southern highbush (hybrids derived from crosses between northern and native southern species, rabbiteye (V. ashei), and lowbush blueberry (V. angustifolium).
Rabbiteye cultivars are best suited for most of the Carolinas. (“Rabbiteye” refers to the young, unripened fruit that looks like a rabbit’s eye with the pink blush on the blossom end.) Tough love gardeners like me appreciate their drought and heat tolerance. Dozens of early, mid and late-season fruiting rabbiteye cultivars are available for June through mid-August harvests. Since rabbiteye cultivars are self-sterile, plant another cultivar to encourage cross-pollination and fruit set.
Because of their attractive multi-season interest, include these acid-loving plants in borders and as backgrounds for perennial flowers. When planted in a sunny, well-drained location, perhaps even in raised beds amended with organic matter to keep their “feet” dry, you’ll be rewarded with a beautiful landscape that’s good enough to eat.

Discover 50 luscious and lovely plants that flourish in the Carolinas.