Edible wild blueberries are a treat for any backpacker hiking or camping in Colorado. Ultralight backpackers pack even lighter when they know there will be berries to eat. For many, gathering wild food is an important wilderness survival skill. But, with numerous poison berries out there, it is important to know whether a blueberry is edible. There are four main types of blueberry bushes; knowing how to spot them will make the difference between getting sick or enjoying delicious blueberries.
Identify highbush blueberries by their large size, with bushes often growing 6 to 12 feet tall. Highbush blueberries grow in many climates and produce blueberries that can be more than an inch in diameter. The ripe blueberries have a whitish powder that easily rubs off. The stems are woody, and the bushes grow evenly rounded. The dark, shiny green leaves are 1 1/2 to 3 inches long and have a tough, leathery texture. In the fall, the leaves turn bright red.
Spot hybrid or half-high blueberry bushes by their 2- to 4-foot height and medium-size fruit. These berries are able to grow in the colder, higher climates of Colorado. They have a sweet flavor, and their leaves turn red in the fall.
Identify lowbush blueberries by their low growing pattern, with bushes 1 to 2 feet tall, , according to the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council. Lowbush blueberries look more like ground cover than bushes. They like to grow on rocky outcrops as well as in bogs or swamps. Lowbush blueberries have hanging, white, bell-shaped flowers in the spring and bunches of blueberries dusted with white powder in the summer.
Identify rabbiteye blueberry bushes by their height. This bush grows up to 15 feet tall and is found in the warmer climates of Colorado.
For your first wild blueberry picking trip in Colorado, it is best to go with an experienced guide who will know what to pick and where to go.
Also, carry a field guide to help make a positive identification of any blueberries you want to eat.
The best time to find wild blueberries in Colorado is from the end of July through August.
Avoid all wild fruit that grows on a vine. Most wild vine fruits are poisonous and hard to differentiate from ones that aren't.
Black bears are extremely fond of wild blueberries. To avoid danger, always yield to the bear if they want the berries to themselves.