Blueberries (Vaccinium spp.) are native to eastern North America, including Florida. Blueberries can be found throughout the state, growing in woods and swamps, as long as the soil pH is 6.0 or higher. You can identify wild blueberries in Florida by their foliage, berry color and shape, and the type of seeds in the plant. Blueberries do best in U.S. Department of Agriculture zones 7 through 10.
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Blueberry Vs. Huckleberry
Wild blueberries are most often confused with huckleberries, which also grow in Florida. Blueberry bushes produce small, blue-black colored fruits that have a five-pointed crown on one end. The color and shape is similar to that of huckleberries, but blueberries have softer seeds, while huckleberries contain larger, harder seeds. Wild blueberry bushes produce long thin branches called canes, with broad, green leaves. The bushes have thorns, which can be a deterrent to those looking for an easy harvest.
Two Main Varieties
While there are over eight different wild blueberry species in Florida, they can be divided into two main varieties: rabbiteye blueberries (Vaccinium ashei) and Southern highbush blueberries (Vaccinium corymbosum). Southern highbush varieties include the “O’Neal” (Vaccinium corymbosum “O’Neal”) and the “Sharpblue” (Vaccinium corymbosum “Sharpblue”). Common rabbiteye varieties include the “Powderblue” (Vaccinium ashei “Powderblue”) and the “Bonitablue” (Vaccinium ashei “Bonitablue”). The varieties of blueberries can be identified by where they grow and differences in the appearance of the plants.
Differences in Appearance
Both rabbiteye and Southern highbush plants produce 1/2- to 1-inch-wide fruits. The fruits of the rabbiteye variety have thicker skins, and they are firmer than the berries from Southern highbush plants. Southern highbush berries ripen earlier than rabbiteye blueberries, from four to six weeks sooner. Because of this, Southern highbush berries are the variety chosen for commercial production. While the appearance of the foliage is generally similar with canes and green leaves, highbush blueberry plants are smaller than rabbiteye blueberry plants, growing no more than 6 feet high. Rabbiteye blueberry plants can grow up to 10 feet high.
Rabbiteye blueberries tend to grow in colder regions of Florida -- the north and north central areas. In turn, Southern highbush blueberries are most commonly found along the peninsula, reaching into southern Georgia. Rabbiteye blueberries do best in USDA zones 7 through 9, while Southern highbush blueberries thrive in zones 7 through 10, and sometimes, as in the case of the “Sharpblue,” in zone 11. Rabbiteye and Southern highbush blueberry plants can only pollinate with plants from their own species, so they tend to grow in clusters of the same species.