The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, July 2, 2004


Lowbush blueberry

(Photo by Kay Fairweather)
Last year, for the Fourth of July, the Biodiversity Corner honored the bullfrog for its part in the frog-jumping competition. (Katie Zinke's bullfrog made the winning jump of 54 inches.) This year, in keeping with the Old Home Day agricultural and rural roots theme, I wanted to dig up (only figuratively) something growing wild that has also been cultivated. The cranberry would have been appropriate but I couldn't find it in the wild. I weeded out ideas like wild strawberries, mushrooms, and chestnuts. In the end I thought there is something so sweet about independence that the little wild blueberry would be appropriate.

Name: Vaccinium angustifolium or Lowbush blueberry. Lowbush and highbush blueberries and huckleberries are in the same genus as the cranberry. All are members of the heath family.

When and where seen: Lowbush blueberries can be found all across town, all year round, in the woods, at the edges of woods, in open land, and along roadsides.

Identification: The bush is about one to two feet tall, shallow-rooted, and often growing in thickets. The leaves are alternate, elliptical, serrated (if you look very closely), and just over an inch long. The clusters of white or pale pink bell-shaped flowers appear in May and June. Remnants of the five subdivisions of the flower remain on the berry at the opposite end from the stalk, looking like a five-pointed crown. The pale green berries ripen to a blue-black color in July and August. The berries are blue several days before they are ripe. I confirmed that this morning. You can be sure they are ripe when the birds get them before you do.

Habitat and cultivation: The lowbush blueberry is not too fussy about certain aspects of habitat. They will grow on mountainsides and on lowland barrens. Soil acidity is crucial and they also like to get some sun. The highbush blueberry is the one that is most widely cultivated; but in Maine and Nova Scotia large areas of wild lowbush blueberries are "managed." They are not planted but developed from existing native stands and qualify to be marketed as wild. You can get a yield of 3,000 pounds per acre from an established stand of native lowbush blueberries if you apply some agricultural practices, like weed and pest control. Under the best of conditions, yields of up to 8,000 pounds per acre are possible. For cultivation, the optimum pH is 4.5 to 5.5. If rhododendrons and azaleas grow well, then blueberries probably will too. Some people grow blueberries to attract birds and others don't grow them because of the birds. This is an example of bio-perversity. Berries aside, blueberries bushes put on a show of scarlet in the fall and can be useful as a ground cover in areas that you want to leave wild.

Did you know? Blueberries have a relatively high concentration of iron, compared to other berries grown in temperate zones . beats eating liver and goes better with ice cream.

References: Peter Alden, National Audubon Society Field Guide to New England; Donald Wyman, Wyman's Gardening Encyclopedia; Wild Blueberry Information Center of Nova Scotia at

Celebrate your independence by writing the Biodiversity Corner. There are red and white and blue species of things waiting for their 500 words of fame. Send to Kay Fairweather at 392 School Street, Carlisle MA 01741 or to

2004 The Carlisle Mosquito