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Vaccinium

 

 

KingdomPlantaePlants, but not fungi, lichens, or algae (from Stearn’s Botanical Latin)
SubkingdomTracheobiontaVascular plants—plants with a “circulatory system” for delivering water and nutrients
DivisionMagnoliophytaFlowering plants, also known as angiosperms
ClassMagnoliopsidaDicotyledons—plants with two initial seed leaves
SubclassAsteridaeA large class that encompasses asters
OrderEricalesTea, persimmon, blueberry, Brazil nut, azalea, many others
FamilyEricaceaeHeath or heather family
GenusVacciniumAncient Latin name for billberry

About plant names...

Vaccinium is a hardy genus of shrubs that produces many of the berries we love to eat: bilberries, blueberries, whortleberries, hurtleberries, huckleberries, cranberries, lingonberries, dangleberries, and cowberries among them. Many species are cultivated now. Bears, birds, and many other animals also enjoy these fruits. Vaccinium taxonomy is bewildering, in part because they hybridize freely.

Identification: Plants are mostly deciduous perennial shrubs (a few are evergreens), some only a few centimeters high, others a meter or more, with tough, flexible branches. They seem to hunker down, adjusting to the often exposed locations they inhabit, flourishing where few species can. Some prefer bogs; others acidic, sandy soils or woodlands. They have shiny, elliptic leaves and flowers that are usually urn-shaped, and about the same size as the berries. Berries vary in size from ⅛-½" (3.2-15 mm) in size, and may be blue, red, or black.

Below are some of members of the Vaccinium genus, along with some similar-appearing members from Gaylussacia:

 

Vaccinium

Highbush Blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum) · 4/24/2012 · Nashua River Rail Trail, Groton Center, Groton, MA
≈ 4½ × 3" (11 × 7.9 cm)

Vaccinium

Cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon) · 8/18/2013 · Bemis Road, Townsend, MA
≈ 6 × 9" (15 × 22 cm)

 
Gaylussacia baccata

Gaylussacia brachycera

Gaylussacia dumosa
Common Name

Black Huckleberry

Box-huckleberry

Dwarf Huckleberry
Plant 12-36" (30-91 cm) in height, with stiff branches that are light brown or greenish when young, changing to gray or black with age. Shrubs are found in colonies. These low evergreen shrubs are 6-18" (15-45 cm) high. 12-30" (30-75 cm) in height, and heavily branched. Young twigs are covered with short, curly hairs.
Flowers Pink, about ⅜" (9.5 mm) in size, and urn-shaped, in racemes. They bloom from May to July. White or pinkish, urn-shaped, about ⅛" (4 mm) in size, appearing from May to June. Bell-shaped, cream-colored, tinged with pink, appearing in June.
Leaves Oval, becoming orange/red in the fall. Leaves are coated with gold-colored resin glands. The resin can be seen by rubbing the leaves between your fingers, or on a piece of paper. Leaves resemble boxwood leaves. They lack the resin glands found in other huckleberries, and are dark, glossy green, becoming bronze-colored or reddish-purple in the fall. They are ovate, with crenate or serrulate edges and leaf petioles (stems) ¹/₃₂-⅛" (0.5-3 mm) long. 1" (2.5 cm) long, leathery, and obovate to elliptic.
Fruit Berries contain 10 seeds, fewer than blueberries. Resembles blueberries, but with fewer, larger seeds. They are about ⅜" (1.2 cm) in size. Berries are about ¼" (8 mm) in diameter, each with 10 seeds, fewer than for blueberries.
Range/ Zones

Habitats Open woods and thickets; in rocky, sandy soil   Forests, especially pine forests; bogs, bays, wet sandy soil.
Type Wild Wild Wild
Occurrence Common    

 

 
Gaylussacia frondosa

Vaccinium angustifolium

Vaccinium angustifolium var. nigrum
Common Name

Blue Huckleberry

Blueberries

Black-fruited low-bush blueberry
Plant Deciduous, heavily branched, and up to 6½' (2 m) in height. Up to 24" (60 cm) tall, usually less than half that. Plants are 4-12" (10-30 cm), often forming large colonies.
Flowers Greenish-white. White, sometimes tinged with pink, bell-shaped, in dense clusters, ⅛" (5 mm) long. Usually white, cylindrical or urn-shaped, ⅛-³/₁₆" (4-6 mm) long.
Leaves Up to 2½" (7 cm) × 1¼" (3.5 cm), and hairy and glandular on the leaf bottoms. Glossy green, elliptic, turning red-purple in the fall. Dark to pale green, elliptic or narrowly elliptic, ½-1½" (1.5-4.1 cm) × ⅛-⅝" (6-16 mm), with sharp, uniform, small serrations.
Fruit ¼" (8 mm) in diameter, usually blue, but may be black or even white. Flowers and fruits hang on long petioles. ⅛-½" (3.2-12 mm) in diameter, dark blue, sometimes almost black. Black, shiny, ⅛-⅜" (3-12 mm) in diameter.
Range/ Zones

USDA Zones: 2-6
 
Habitats Wooded areas near bogs and swamps; acidic soils Sandy, acidic soils  
Type Wild Wild Wild
Occurrence   Common  

 

 
Vaccinium corymbosum

Vaccinium deliciosum

Vaccinium fuscatum
Common Name

Highbush Blueberry

Blue Huckleberry

Black Highbush Blueberry
Plant Said to be up to 12' (3.7 m) in height, though I have never seen one larger than 4' (1.2 m) high. Deciduous shrubs are less than 12" (30 cm) high, forming sprawling mats. Shrubs are perennials, reaching 11' (3.5 m), with brown bark.
Flowers Less than ½" (1.3 cm) long, pinkish or white, bell- or urn-shaped. Pink or red, globose (spherical) or urn-shaped, ⅛-³/₁₆" (4-6 mm) × ⅛-¼" (5-7 mm). They appear from May to July. Urn-shaped and cream-colored, with pink bases and sometimes pink stripes, about ⅛" (6 mm) in size.
Leaves About 1" (2.5 cm) long, dark green on top, lighter below. In the fall, leaves turn a whole range of colors—yellow, orange, red. Alternate, oblong to egg-shaped, about ⅝-1¼" (1.7-3.5 cm) × ¼-⅝" (9-17 mm), with finely serrated (sometimes smooth) edges. Alternate, 1-1¼" (3-3.5 cm) × ⅝-⅞" (1.6-2.5 cm) wide, and lanceolate, elliptic, or ovate; thick and leathery, hairless above, finely hairy and much lighter in color below.
Fruit ¼-½" (6.3-12 mm) in diameter, dark blue, sometimes black. Blue to dull black, coated with a white waxy powder, ¼-½" (9-13 mm) in diameter. ⅛-⅜" (6-10 mm) in diameter.
Range/ Zones

USDA Zones: 3

Habitats Near swampy areas Alpine meadows, subalpine coniferous woods, talus slopes; elevations of 1969-6562' (600-2000 m) Woodlands, medium shade, acid soils, swampy areas
Type Wild Wild Wild
Occurrence Common   Common

 

 
Vaccinium macrocarpon

Vaccinium myrtilloides

Vaccinium ovatum
Common Name

American Cranberry

Velvetleaf Blueberry

Evergreen Huckleberry
Plant Vine-like, creeping up to 6' (1.8 m) horizontally, but less than 8" (20 cm) high. If you aren’t standing or floating in a bog, you probably aren’t looking at cranberries. These spreading shrubs are up to 20" (50 cm) in height, with stems covered with fine hairs. These plants are bushy shrubs up to 24-36" (60-91 cm) in full sun, and up to 15' (4.6 m) in the shade.
Flowers Pale pink or white, about ½" (1.3 cm) long, with four petals that curve strongly backward. White, urn-shaped, about ¹/₁₆-³/₁₆" (3-5 mm) in size, appearing May-June. About ½" (1.3 cm) long, pinkish white, bell-shaped, in clusters of 3 to 10.
Leaves About ½" (1.3 cm) long, oval, shiny on top. Deciduous, alternate, ⅞-1¼" (2.3-3.5 cm) × ¼-⅝" (8-16 mm), bright green above, much lighter below, covered with soft and velvety hairs. Dark green and shiny, alternate, 1-2" (2.5-5 cm) long. They are ovate (oval, wider at the base) in shape, with pointed tips, tough and leathery, with small serrations along the edges.
Fruit Berries are ½-1" (1.3-2.5 cm) in diameter and quite hard, like tiny apples. ⅛-¼" (6-8 mm) in diameter, usually blue with a whitish waxy bloom, sometimes purplish black. Purplish black, ⅛-¼" (4-7 mm) in diameter.
Range/ Zones

USDA Zones: 7-9
Habitats Acidic bogs Acidic soils, coniferous woods, forested bogs, rocky areas. Redwood forest, closed-cone pine forest, mixed evergreen forest
Type Wild Wild Wild
Occurrence Common Common  

 

 
Vaccinium oxycoccos

Vaccinium uliginosum

Vaccinium vitis-idaea
Common Name

Small Cranberry

Bog Huckleberry

Lingonberry
Plant Small cranberries form mats of tiny shrubs only a few centimeters in height. 20-39" (50-100 cm) high; on mountains, 4-6" (10-15 cm) high. Plants are small evergreen shrubs 2-7" (5-17 cm) tall.
Flowers Dark pink, and four-petaled, with the petals bending way back to the stem (“reflexed”). Flowers are pink (really white/pink striped), urn-shaped. They appear in June. White or pink, and bell-shaped, about ¼" (6.3 mm) long.
Leaves Leaf edges are rolled under. Leaves are opposite, roughly oval (ovate), wider at the base, pointed at the tip. Obovate to elliptic to oblong, ⅜-1" (1-3 cm) × ⅛-½" (6-15 mm). Less than ¾" (1.9 cm) long, usually closer to ½" (1.3 cm); dark green and shiny on top.
Fruit Less than ½" (1.3 cm) in diameter, while large cranberries are more than ½" (1.3 cm) in diameter. Both are deep red when ripe. Dark blue and covered with a waxy whitish coating. Berries are bright red, ¼-⅜" (6.3-10 mm) in diameter.
Range/ Zones

Habitats   Wet, acid soils; sun or partial shade Temperate to subarctic climates—bogs, moist forests, rocky barrens, open slopes and dry woods
Type Wild Wild Wild
Occurrence     Common

 

Online References:

Vaccinium on Wikipedia

Vaccinium on www.botany.com

Vaccinium on eFloras

Vaccinium

Cowberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea) · 9/19/2009 · Acadia National Park, Bar Harbor, ME
≈ 7 × 4½" (17 × 11 cm)

Vaccinium description by Thomas H. Kent, last updated 14 Oct 2013.

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Vaccinium

Mountain Cranberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea) · 9/20/2009 · Wild Gardens of Acadia, Acadia National Park, Bar Harbor, ME
≈ 17 × 12" (44 × 29 cm)