All blueberries around the world are from the Vaccinium family. This includes the highbush blueberry which is called the Vaccinium corymbosum (Northern Highbush) or Vaccinium Ashei, Southern Blueberry or what is sometimes called the "rabbiteye blueberry." These two species as well as the newly developed southern Highbush blueberry are what we call the highbush blueberry or sometimes referred to as the "cultivated blueberry." In North America, there is also a species in Maine and Eastern Canada called vaccinium angustofolium or lowbush blueberry. Sometimes this is referred to as the "Wild" blueberry. In Europe you will find the Vaccinium myrtillus, which is a wild blueberry called the "bilberry."
Resource: Check out the USDA Plants Database.
History: Blueberries have been a part of North American food and medicine traditions for centuries. The first native Americans and First Nations in Canada cherished wild blueberries from the forest as a staple food. They mixed with deer and bison meats to make pemmican and dried the berries for winter use. First settlers to North America from Europe quickly appreciated blueberries and included them in stews, beverages and many of the building block recipes of American culinary heritage such as pies, blueberry buckles and what are called blueberry grunts. Preserved blueberries were one of the earliest military rations in the US Civil War and other conflicts. Blueberries are as American as -- Blueberry pie!
Cultivation: Blueberries were a "gathered" food that were found in the forests in the summer time throughout North America. A lady farmer named Elizabeth White, in Whitesbog New Jersey, changed all of this by pursuing her dream of developing a commercial blueberry crop. Elizabeth was a successful cranberry farmer in Southern new Jersey at the turn of the century. This was not a common profession for a woman in these days and she managed one of the largest most successful plantations at a area called "Whitesbog." Each day she walked from her house to the cranberry bogs down country roads and marveled at the wild highbush blueberry plants growing everywhere. Farmers throughout the country had attempted to cultivate the crop in the past and failed. Elizabeth decided to team up with a USDA botanist named Frederic Coville who shared her dream and they began a pursuit to cultivate the blueberry. Coville and White were a great team. He has the science and Elizabeth was a master farmer. Elizabeth worked with hunters in the area and offered a bounty for those who would bring back plants and cuttings of big beautiful blueberries. Coville had some of his first experimental blueberry plantations on the grounds of what is now the Pentagon in the Washington DC area and headquarters for the US Military! Cultivation of blueberries was not as easy as sticking plants in the ground. The Coville-White team tested hundreds of plant cultivars, different soil and cultivation methods, and eventually came up with many of the practices that are used to cultivate blueberries today.
Resource: USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS): Historic Collection on Early Blueberry Research.
2012 Marks the anniversary of the start of this work, and the US Blueberry industry is celebrating the decade of development which led to the first commercial blueberry crop in 2016!
Today the realization of the visions of Coville and White have developed into a worldwide blueberry business on six continents. You can still visit Whitesbog and see the original "Wild" highbush blueberry plants. In the USA, highbush blueberries are commercially grown in 38 states. In Canada, they are commercially produced in two provinces including British Columbia which is now the leading production region in North America. Highbush blueberries are also grown in regions of Mexico. When you taste on of these tasty little blue dynamos -- remember our founder Elizabeth White!