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A Short History of Blueberries

Maine's state berry is the blueberry, and there is a thriving industry of both wild and cultivated blueberries in the state. Blueberries are also known as bilberries, whortleberries, and hurtleberries. They get their name from their velvety, deep-blue color. Before the arrival of Europeans in North America, indigenous people gathered and dried the fruit for use in winter.

Six varieties of highbush blueberries
will ripen over the summer
so there are always ripe berries to pick!

Blueberries are members of the Ericaceae family, which also includes rhododendron, azalea, Indian pipe, heath, cranberry, and huckleberry. Most members of this family require acid soils for good growth and reproduction. The Ericaceae family has four subfamilies, including the Vaccinioideae, which includes the genus Vaccinium. The genus Vaccinium comes from the Latin "vacca" for cow since cows love them, a fact first noted by Captain James Cook in the late 1700s. Vaccinium contains 400 species, including blueberries.

The most popular variety is Vaccinium corymbosum, the "highbush" blueberry. Also popular in Maine is the wild lowbush blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium), but we prefer the highbush variety because the berries are larger and much easier to pick. I think the flavor is comparable as well. Lowbush blueberries are usually harvested using a blueberry rake (incidentally, which was invented by a Mainer, Abijah Tabbut, in 1822). Highbush blueberries grow on bushes that are 4-8 feet tall, making picking by hand an easy job. They also grow in the wild, and prefer wet, boggy habitats. For example, there are large wild highbush blueberries along the marshy edge of Peabody Pond, just to the north of the Farmhouse.

The first cultivated highbush blueberries were transplanted from the wild. One of the early workers in this field was Elizabeth White of Whitesbog, New Jersey. She was a commercial cranberry grower who had her workers search for exceptional wild blueberry bushes and transplant them to her farm. Another early plant breeder was Dr. Frederick Coville, a botanist for the US Department of Agriculture, who used native plants from New Hampshire. In 1911, White and Coville began working on new hybrids on White's farm. Together they developed 8 varieties from wild selections and 15 improved varieties by 1937. There are at least 40 improved cultivated varieties of highbush blueberries for northern climes on the market today, developed for disease and frost resistance, large flavorful berries, and consistently high yields.

Blueberries will often
stay ripe right
into early autumn

We have six varieties of highbush blueberries at the farm - Blue Crop, Berkeley, Elliot, Jersey, Blue Gold and Little Giant. The Blue Crop ripen first, usually in mid-July. Berkeley ripen next, followed by the Jerseys. The Blue Gold and Little Giant are mid-season varieties and ripen after the Jerseys and before the Elliots. There are usually ripe berries to pick all summer long, and into early September. Each variety has its own character. Some are large and sweet and just right for fruit salads, blueberry pancakes, and to top your breakfast cereal. Others are wonderful for pies and baking. When you come to the farm we'll let you know which berries are ripe and ready to pick, and you can choose the variety that you like best - or pick some of each!

Please call us if you have any questions or suggestions, and we hope to see you at Crabtree's PYO Highbush Blueberries this summer.

Allen and Penny Crabtree
(207) 787-2730

[Blueberry Home Page] [Directions] [Hours and Prices]
[About Blueberries] [Blueberry Recipes]
[Getting Ready for Blueberry Season] [ PYO Blueberries]
[Water for the Blueberries] [The Quiet Seasons] [E-mail ] [Crabtree's Collection Home Page]

Maine Blueberry banner and Sebago Map created by Allen F. Crabtree IV

This page was last updated July 18, 2007

Copyright © 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 by Allen Crabtree