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Blueberry

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Blueberries are perennial flowering plants with blue– or purple–colored berries. They are classified in the section Cyanococcus within the genus Vaccinium. Vaccinium also includes cranberries, bilberries, and huckleberries.<ref>Template:Cite book</ref> Commercial "blueberries" – including both wild ('lowbush') and cultivated ('highbush') blueberries – are all native to North America. The highbush blueberry varieties were introduced into Europe during the 1930s.<ref name=nauman1993/>

Blueberries are usually prostrate shrubs that can vary in size from Template:Convert to Template:Convert in height. In commercial production of blueberries, the species with small, pea–size berries growing on low–level bushes are known as "lowbush blueberries" (synonymous with "wild"), while the species with larger berries growing on taller cultivated bushes are known as "highbush blueberries".

The leaves can be either deciduous or evergreen, ovate to lanceolate, and Template:Convert long and Template:Convert broad. The flowers are bell-shaped, white, pale pink or red, sometimes tinged greenish. The fruit is a berry Template:Convert in diameter with a flared crown at the end; they are pale greenish at first, then reddish-purple, and finally dark purple when ripe. They are covered in a protective coating of powdery epicuticular wax, colloquially known as the "bloom".<ref>Template:Cite web</ref> They have a sweet taste when mature, with variable acidity. Blueberry bushes typically bear fruit in the middle of the growing season: fruiting times are affected by local conditions such as altitude and latitude, so the peak of the crop, in the northern hemisphere, can vary from May to August.

Blueberries showing various stages of maturation. IG = Immature Green, GP = Green Pink, BP = Blue Pink, and R = Ripe.

Origins

Flowers on a cultivated blueberry bush

The genus Vaccinium has a mostly circumpolar distribution, with species mainly being present in North America, Europe, and Asia.

Many commercially sold species with English common names including "blueberry" are from North America. Many North American native species of blueberries are grown commercially in the Southern Hemisphere in Australia, New Zealand and South American nations.

Several other wild shrubs of the genus Vaccinium also produce commonly eaten blue berries, such as the predominantly European Vaccinium myrtillus and other bilberries, which in many languages have a name that translates to "blueberry" in English. See the Identification section for more information.

Species

Wild blueberry in autumn foliage, Pilot Mountain, North Carolina, in October
A maturing 'Polaris' blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum)
A selection of blueberries, showing the typical sizes of the berries. The scale is marked in centimeters.
Worldwide highbush blueberry growing areas

Note: habitat and range summaries are from the Flora of New Brunswick, published in 1986 by Harold R. Hinds and Plants of the Pacific Northwest coast, published in 1994 by Pojar and MacKinnon.

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Some other blue-fruited species of Vaccinium:

Identification

Commercially offered blueberries are usually from species that naturally occur only in eastern and north-central North America. Other sections in the genus, native to other parts of the world, including the Pacific Northwest and southern United States,<ref>Template:Cite web</ref> South America, Europe, and Asia, include other wild shrubs producing similar-looking edible berries, such as huckleberries and whortleberries (North America) and bilberries (Europe). These species are sometimes called "blueberries" and sold as blueberry jam or other products.

The names of blueberries in languages other than English often translate as "blueberry", e.g., Scots blaeberry and Norwegian blåbær. Blaeberry, blåbær and French myrtilles usually refer to the European native bilberry (V. myrtillus), while bleuets refers to the North American blueberry. Russian голубика ("blue berry") does not refer to blueberries, which are non-native and nearly unknown in Russia, but rather to their close relatives, bog bilberries (V. uliginosum).

Cyanococcus blueberries can be distinguished from the nearly identical-looking bilberries by their flesh color when cut in half. Ripe blueberries have light green flesh, while bilberries, whortleberries and huckleberries are red or purple throughout.

Cultivation

Blueberry harvester in Michigan
The process of making blueberry jam

Blueberries may be cultivated, or they may be picked from semiwild or wild bushes. In North America, the most common cultivated species is V. corymbosum, the northern highbush blueberry. Hybrids of this with other Vaccinium species adapted to southern U.S. climates are known collectively as southern highbush blueberries.<ref>Template:Cite web</ref>

So-called "wild" (lowbush) blueberries, smaller than cultivated highbush ones, have intense color. The lowbush blueberry, V. angustifolium, is found from the Atlantic provinces westward to Quebec and southward to Michigan and West Virginia. In some areas, it produces natural "blueberry barrens", where it is the dominant species covering large areas. Several First Nations communities in Ontario are involved in harvesting wild blueberries.

"Wild" has been adopted as a marketing term for harvests of managed native stands of lowbush blueberries. The bushes are not planted or genetically manipulated, but they are pruned or burned over every two years, and pests are "managed".<ref>Template:Cite web</ref>

Numerous highbush cultivars of blueberries are available, with diversity among them, each having individual qualities. A blueberry breeding program has been established by the USDA-ARS breeding program at Beltsville, Maryland, and Chatsworth, New Jersey. This program began when Frederick Vernon Coville of the USDA-ARS collaborated with Elizabeth Coleman White of New Jersey.<ref>Template:Cite web</ref> In the early part of the 20th century, White offered pineland residents cash for wild blueberry plants with unusually large fruit.<ref>Template:Cite web</ref> After 1910 Coville began to work on blueberry, and was the first to discover the importance of soil acidity (blueberries need highly acidic soil), that blueberries do not self-pollinate, and the effects of cold on blueberries and other plants.<ref name="mirsky">Template:Cite web</ref> In 1911, he began a program of research in conjunction with White, daughter of the owner of the extensive cranberry bogs at Whitesbog in the New Jersey Pine Barrens. His work doubled the size of some strains' fruit, and by 1916, he had succeeded in cultivating blueberries, making them a valuable crop in the Northeastern United States.<ref>Template:Cite web</ref><ref name="JN62916">Template:Cite news</ref> For this work he received the George Roberts White Medal of Honor from the Massachusetts Horticultural Society.

The rabbiteye blueberry (Vaccinium virgatum syn. V. ashei) is a southern type of blueberry produced from the Carolinas to the Gulf Coast states. Other important species in North America include V. pallidum, the hillside or dryland blueberry. It is native to the eastern U.S., and common in the Appalachians and the Piedmont of the Southeast. Sparkleberry, V. arboreum, is a common wild species on sandy soils in the Southeast.

Successful blueberry cultivation requires attention to soil pH (acidity) measurements in the acidic range.<ref name="msu">Template:Cite web</ref><ref name="purdue">Template:Cite web</ref><ref>Template:Cite web</ref>

Blueberry bushes often require supplemental fertilization,<ref name=purdue/> but over-fertilzation with nitrogen can damage plant health shown by nitrogen-burn visible on the leaves.<ref name=msu/><ref name=purdue/>

Growing areas

Significant production of highbush blueberries occurs in British Columbia, Maryland, Western Oregon, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, and Washington. The production of southern highbush varieties in California is rapidly increasing, as varieties originating from University of Florida, Connecticut, New Hampshire, North Carolina State University and Maine have been introduced. Southern highbush berries are now also cultivated in the Mediterranean regions of Europe, Southern Hemisphere countries and China.

United States

According to a 2014 report by US Department of Agriculture, Washington was the nation's largest producer of cultivated (highbush) blueberries with 96.1 million pounds, followed in order of "utilized production" volume by Michigan and Georgia, Oregon, New Jersey, California and North Carolina.<ref name="eklund">Template:Cite web</ref> In terms of acres harvested for cultivated blueberries in 2014, the leading state was Michigan (19,000 acres) followed by Georgia, Oregon, Washington and New Jersey.<ref name=eklund/>

Hammonton, New Jersey claims to be the "Blueberry Capital of the World",<ref>Template:Cite web</ref> with over 80% of New Jersey's cultivated blueberries coming from this town.<ref>Template:Cite web</ref> Every year the town hosts a large festival that draws thousands of people to celebrate the fruit.<ref>Template:Cite web</ref>

Resulting from cultivation of both lowbush (wild) and highbush blueberries, Maine accounts for 10% of all blueberries grown in North America with Template:Convert farmed, but only half of this acreage is harvested each year due to variations in pruning practices.<ref>Template:Cite web</ref> The wild blueberry is the official fruit of Maine.<ref>Template:Cite web</ref>

Canada

Wild blueberry fields in Nova Scotia, Canada

Canadian production of wild and cultivated blueberries in 2015 was 166,000 tonnes valued at $262 million, the largest fruit crop produced nationally accounting for 29% of all fruit value.<ref name="statcan">Template:Cite web</ref>

British Columbia was the largest Canadian producer of cultivated blueberries, yielding 70,000 tonnes in 2015,<ref name="statcan"/> the world's largest production of blueberries by region.<ref>Template:Cite web</ref>

Atlantic Canada contributes approximately half of the total North American wild/lowbush annual production with New Brunswick having the largest in 2015, an amount expanding in 2016.<ref>Template:Cite web</ref> Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Québec are also major producers.<ref>Template:Cite web</ref> Nova Scotia recognizes the wild blueberry as its official provincial berry,<ref>Nova Scotia: Official emblems and symbols</ref> with the town of Oxford, Nova Scotia known as the Wild Blueberry Capital of Canada.<ref>Template:Cite web</ref>

Québec is a major producer of wild blueberries, especially in the regions of Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean (where a popular name for inhabitants of the regions is bleuets, or "blueberries") and Côte-Nord, which together provide 40% of Québec's total provincial production. This wild blueberry commerce benefits from vertical integration of growing, processing, frozen storage, marketing and transportation within relatively small regions of the province.<ref name="quebec">Template:Cite web</ref> On average, 80% of Québec wild blueberries are harvested on farms (21 million kg), the remaining 20% being harvested from public forests (5 million kg).<ref name=quebec/> Some 95% of the wild blueberry crop in Québec is frozen for export out of the province.<ref name=quebec/>

Blueberry production – 2016
Country (tonnes)
Template:USA
<center>269,257
<center>Template:CAN <center>178,745
<center>Template:MEX <center>29,067
<center>Template:POL <center>14,721
<center>Template:GER <center>10,710
<center>World <center>552,505
<center>Source: FAOSTAT of the United Nations<ref name="faostat14">Template:Cite web</ref>

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A cut blueberry showing how, having been frozen and then thawed, the anthocyanins in the pericarp are able to run into the damaged cells, staining the flesh.
Structure of anthocyanins, the blue pigments in blueberries.<ref>Template:Cite web</ref>

Europe

Highbush blueberries were first introduced to Germany, Sweden and the Netherlands in the 1930s, and have since been spread to Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Romania, Poland, Italy, Hungary and other countries of Europe.<ref name=nauman1993>Template:Cite book</ref> Poland, Germany, and France were the largest European producers in 2014 (table).

Southern Hemisphere

In the Southern Hemisphere, Peru, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, South Africa, New Zealand, and Australia grow blueberries commercially.

Blueberries were first introduced to Australia in the 1950s, but the effort was unsuccessful. In the early 1970s, the Victorian Department of Agriculture imported seed from the U.S. and a selection trial was started. This work was continued into the mid-1970s when the Australian Blueberry Growers' Association was formed.<ref name="australianblueberries.com.au">Template:Cite web</ref>

In the 21st century, the industry grew in Argentina: "Argentine blueberry production has increased over the last three years with planted area up to 400 percent", according to a 2005 report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.<ref>U.S. Department of Agriculture GAIN Report, Retrieved June 30, 2011</ref> "Argentine blueberry production has thrived in four different regions: the province of Entre Rios in northeastern Argentina, the province of Tucuman, the province of Buenos Aires and the southern Patagonian valleys", according to the report.<ref name=gain2005>Template:Cite web</ref> In the Bureau of International Labor Affairs report of 2014 on child labor and forced labor, blueberries were listed among the goods produced in such working conditions in Argentina.<ref>Template:Cite web</ref>

Production in Chile ranges from Copiapó in the north to Puerto Montt in the south, allowing the country to offer blueberries from October through late March. Production evolved rapidly since 2010, becoming the fourth most important fruit exported in value terms. Blueberries are exported mainly to North America (79%), followed by Europe (17%), and Asia (South Korea, China and Japan).Template:Cn

Production

In 2016, world production of blueberries (low- and highbush combined) was 552,505 tonnes, led by the United States with 49% of total production and Canada with 32%.<ref name=faostat14/> In 2016, Canada was the largest producer of wild blueberries, mainly in Quebec and the Atlantic provinces.<ref name="canblue">Template:Cite web</ref>

Harvesting

Harvest seasons

The blueberry harvest in North America varies. It can start as early as May and usually ends in late summer. The principal areas of production in the Southern Hemisphere (Australia, Chile, New Zealand and Argentina) have long periods of harvest. In Australia, for example, due to the geographic spread of blueberry farms and the development of new cultivation techniques, the industry is able to provide fresh blueberries for 10 months of the year – from July through to April.<ref name="australianblueberries.com.au"/> Similar to other fruits and vegetables, climate-controlled storage allows growers to preserve picked blueberries. Harvest in the UK is from June to August. Mexico also can harvest from October to February.

Harvest methods

Although blueberries were traditionally hand-picked with berry-picking rakes, modern farmers use machine harvesters that shake the fruit off the bush of cultivated highbush blueberries, while new machines are being developed for wild, lowbush blueberries.<ref>Template:Cite web</ref> The fruit is then brought to a cleaning and packaging facility where it is cleaned, packaged, and then sold. Tunnels are often used to grow blueberries in Europe and this makes the season longer. This creates an opportunity to move crops into earlier or later markets to get better prices.

Uses

Blueberries are sold fresh or are processed as individually quick frozen (IQF) fruit, purée, juice, or dried or infused berries. These may then be used in a variety of consumer goods, such as jellies, jams, blueberry pies, muffins, snack foods, or as an additive to breakfast cereals.

Blueberry jam is made from blueberries, sugar, water, and fruit pectin. Blueberry sauce is a sweet sauce prepared using blueberries as a primary ingredient.

Blueberry wine is made from the flesh and skin of the berry, which is fermented and then matured; usually the lowbush variety is used.

Nutrients

Blueberries consist of 14% carbohydrates, 0.7% protein, 0.3% fat and 84% water (table). They contain only negligible amounts of micronutrients, with moderate levels (relative to respective Daily Values) (DV) of the essential dietary mineral manganese, vitamin C, vitamin K and dietary fiber (table).<ref name="nd">Template:Cite web</ref> Generally, nutrient contents of blueberries are a low percentage of the DV (table). One serving provides a relatively low caloric value of 57 kcal per 100 g serving and glycemic load score of 6 out of 100 per day.<ref name=nd/>

Phytochemicals and research

Blueberries contain anthocyanins, other polyphenols and various phytochemicals under preliminary research for their potential role in the human body. Most polyphenol studies have been conducted using the highbush cultivar of blueberries (V. corymbosum), while content of polyphenols and anthocyanins in lowbush (wild) blueberries (V. angustifolium) exceeds values found in highbush cultivars.<ref>Template:Cite journal</ref>

Pesticides

Because "wild" is a marketing term generally used for all low-bush blueberries, it is not an indication that such blueberries are free from pesticides.<ref>Template:Cite web</ref>

The Environmental Working Group, referencing the USDA,<ref>Template:Cite web</ref> rates blueberries as a "significant concern".<ref>Template:Cite web</ref><ref>Template:Cite web</ref>

See also

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References

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Further reading

External links

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