Native Florida Blueberry Spotting In Florida Pinewoods
|Hiking north of Gainesville. Photo by David The Good, Jr.|
The idea was to hunt hogs - which failed. (There's a hilarious story in there, though, involving a rifle with a tricky safety and a close encounter with chupacabra - ask me about it sometime.) What didn't fail, however, was my hunt for edible plants on what used to be a pine plantation.
Since the land had been cropped many times with pines, then clear cut, the species diversity was poor. Parts were swampy and parts were sandy. Overall, the soil was mostly pretty moist - and wild blueberries were everywhere, undeterred by the land's monoculture past.
Those tiny little red, orange, yellow and green leaves belong to the sweetest little wild fruit in all of Florida: Vaccinum myrsinites, also known as the shiny blueberry. Once you've spotted one of these for yourself, you'll see them everywhere - provided you're hiking around in pine scrub. There are often many dozens or even hundreds of them growing in colonies under the right conditions.
The blueberries are tiny but have an incredible flavor that has to be tasted to be believed.
Unfortunately, all I was doing on this particular hike was scoping out the native populations for future harvesting - there won't be blueberries ready until a few months later in the year.
Another species of blueberry that was scattered here and there through the scrub was the wild rabbiteye blueberry (Vaccinium ashei), a taller plant with much larger leaves than the diminutive V. myrsinites.
That shrub may not look like much but it makes some very nice fruit and takes basically no work to grow in your landscaping.
In fact, I have about a dozen or so in my nursery that are loaded with young fruit. I'm more than half tempted to just plant them all in my yard rather than sell them...
If you're hoping to spot blueberries it's pretty easy to do at this time of year thanks to their distinctive blooms.
They look like little bells and contrast quite nicely with bandaids and dirty thumbnails.
(I totally cut myself with a machete. So there. What did you do with YOUR weekend? Bet it didn't involve chopping bits of wood up for a rocket stove with a giant sharp blade, then missing and slicing into your finger. That sort of experience makes life worth living. And helps fund Johnson & Johnson.)
Wild blueberries are all over the place once you know how to look.
If you see pines, start looking.
If you see pines and palmettos, you're definitely on the right track.
If you see pines, palmettos, poison oak, spurge nettle and prickly pear... you're probably standing in a blueberry patch.
There are some look-a-likes, but they don't set berries. Our native blueberries have cousins that only make dry seed capsules... so if you notice the characteristic bell-shaped flowers and they aren't later followed by berries, you've likely found one of blueberry's underachieving relatives.
Get out there and go hunting!
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