Vaccinium – Gardening in the Coastal Southeast

The Genus Vaccinium
Family Ericaceae

This is a large genus of shrubs, vines, and trees native to Africa, Asia, Europe, North America, and South America. Several species are native to the Coastal Southeast. Several species are decorative and the berries of the native species are a valuable food for birds and other animals. A few are cultivated in our region. Typically, they are found in acidic soils.

The family Ericaceae includes pipestem (Agarista,) heather (Erica and others,) mountain laurel (Kalmia,) doghobble (Leucothoe) and azalea (Rhododendron.)


Vaccinium arboreum

Vaccinium arboreum

sparkleberry, farkleberry 

This is a large deciduous shrub or small tree capable of growing to twenty feet tall or more. Unlike some of its relatives, it does not sucker. It has a large number of small, white, bell-shaped flowers in spring. Tiger and zebra swallowtail butterflies visit these flowers. Birds eat the small, black, berries although they are nearly tasteless to me. It grows naturally in the shady woodland understory in acid soils in well-drained sites. Various references recommend it for zones 6 or 7 to 9. 

This plant is available from nurseries specializing in native plants. It is an attractive flowering plant that should be used more in local landscapes. It is propagated by seeds and softwood cuttings.

My plants produce new leaves between late February and mid-March. It flowers in early April to mid-May. Fruits ripen in October and may persist until the flower open in spring.

Vaccinium corymbosum

Vaccinium corymbosum

highbush or rabbiteye blueberry 

This is a suckering, deciduous shrub to eight foot tall or more. Small tubular white to pink flowers appear in spring before the leaves. The sweet fruits vary from black to blue depending on the  waxy coating that produces the blue color. Some of the black-fruited wild plants have fruits that rival commercial cultivars for size and flavor. Many of the cultivated selections are hybrids whose parentage includes V. darrowii. Plants grow well in sun to part shade in moist, well-drained, acidic soils. It is recommended for zones 5 to 9. 

Commercial selections and hybrids are commonly available in local nurseries. I have not seen wild types for sale. Plants are propagated by softwood cuttings and digging of suckers.

My plants are naturally occuring natives and planted horticultural cultivars. Flowers open from mid-January to early April, depending on temperatures. They produce new leaves by mid-March. The ripe fruits ripen mid-May through July.

Vaccinium darrowii

Vaccinium darrowii

Darrow’s blueberry 

This is a semi-evergreen, suckering shrub with small, blue-green leaves. It grows three to four feet tall. Both the new growth and the flowers are pink. The small blue to black fruits are tasty. In nature, it is found in well-drained sites in sun or part shade. I see no references to its cold hardiness. It has a limited natural range in the southeast that includes zones 8b through 9. 

This plant can be found in native plant nurseries and specialty catalogs. It is propagated by seeds, softwood cuttings and digging of suckers.

My plants flower from early to late March. They produce new leaves in late March to early April. Foliage is reddish in winter. It is evergreen in my lower zone 8b garden.

other Vaccinium species

Vaccinium stamineum

More than a dozen blueberry species are native to the Coastal Southeast. Several are decorative enough for gardens. The fruits of many are tasty. All attract native birds and other wildlife. Enjoy and encourage them where they are native.