Highbush Blueberry

The highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum) is a native to many parts of the eastern U.S. including Kentucky. It is a tall shrub that can be found growing in sunny locations that typically have relatively moist, but well drained, acidic soil. The highbush blueberry is also planted extensively outside of its native range because the blueberry bushes used to produce agricultural crops of blueberries are cultivars of the highbush blueberry.

Highbush blueberry flowers are best pollinated through a process called buzz pollination which is only done by some species of native bees. Honey bees can also pollinate blueberry flowers, but they aren’t as efficient as their native cousins who utilize buzz pollination. Photo credit: Opioła Jerzy, CC-BY-SA 3.0 

Highbush blueberries in Kentucky typically bloom in April or May. The flowers are white to pink bells. Bees are the natural pollinators for blueberries. Both honey bees and native bees will work blueberry flowers; however, native bees are much more efficient at pollinating blueberry flowers because blueberry anthers release very little pollen unless they are vibrated.

Several native bee species, such as the southeastern blueberry bee,  do something called buzz pollination. In buzz pollination, the bee crawls inside the flower and rapidly vibrates its shoulder muscles which causes the flower to release large amounts of pollen. Honey bees don’t buzz pollinate but are able to cause the flower to release a smaller quantity of pollen through other processes. Researchers have estimated that it takes three visits to a flower by a honey bee to produce the same pollination results as one visit from a native bee that buzz pollinates.

The fertilized flowers produce clusters of delicious blueberries that typically ripen in June or July. Everything eats blueberries including songbirds, gamebirds, squirrels, deer, and people. The foliage is also an important food source for the caterpillars of several species of butterflies and moths.

Highbush blueberries play an important role in our ecosystems as well as our agricultural community. If you are looking for a plant that is good for pollinators, songbirds and other wildlife, and that can help feed you and your family (if you can beat the critters to the berries) then I encourage you to take a look at the highbush blueberry.

This article was part of Shannon’s original Kentucky Pollinators and Backyard Wildlife blog which evolved into the blog for Backyard Ecology.

Backyard Ecology: Exploring Nature in Your Backyard
Nature isn’t just “out there.” It’s all around us, including right outside our doors. Hi, my name is Shannon Trimboli, and I am the host of Backyard Ecology. I live in southcentral Kentucky and am a wildlife biologist, educator, author, beekeeper, and owner of a nursery specializing in plants for pollinators and wildlife conservation. I invite you to join me as we ignite our curiosity and natural wonder, explore our yards and communities, and improve our local pollinator and wildlife habitat. Learn more or subscribe to my email list at www.backyardecology.net.

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