This weekend, I had the pleasure of finding Velvet-leaved Blueberry (Vaccinium myrtilloides) growing alongside other Blueberry species in the understory of a mixed hardwood/conifer forest here in southern Maine.
The leaves and branchlets of this native shrub are covered in short hairs, and the tiny bud scales have pointed tips. These features can be seen with the naked eye but are worth examining with a hand lens. Tasting the fruit, I detected a slight sourness, which paired well with some of the sweeter, neighboring berries.
Dwarf Huckleberry (Gaylussacia bigeloviana) is a short native shrub of bogs and fens. This attractive member of the Heath family (Ericaceae) has white bell-shaped flowers in June and July which become juicy black fruits by August. Dwarf Huckleberry leaves are shiny on top, are somewhat leathery, though not evergreen, and have pointed tips. Leaves are also covered with resin dots, and leaf margins are fringed with fine hairs. The fruits, too, are conspicuously covered with short hairs (note especially the green fruits pictured below) and contain crunchy seeds.
Unlike Black Huckleberry, a close relative found in forests and fields nearly throughout New England, Dwarf Huckleberry has a more limited distribution. This shrub doesn't grow in Vermont, and is rare in Connecticut, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire; therefore, bogs and fens in parts of Maine and Massachusetts are where to look for this tasty wild food. (To view the following images in full-size, click here.)
July and August are prime blueberry picking months here in Maine. Did you know there are nine species of Blueberries in New England? All are classified in the genus Vaccinium along with three species of Cranberries -- Large (V. macrocarpon), Small (V. oxycoccos), and Mountain (V. vitis-idaea) -- and a shrub with supposedly (I've never tried it) cranberry-flavored fruit called Deerberry (V. stamineum).
In 2013 (during my Wild Berry Butterfly Moon Challenge), I wrote about the four most widespread blueberry species in New England: Common Lowbush Blueberry (V. angustifolium), Highbush Blueberry (V. corymbosum), Hillside Blueberry (V. pallidum), and Black Highbush Blueberry (V. fuscatum).
Another four species are largely restricted to northern New England where they often grow at high elevations: Northern Blueberry (V. boreale), Dwarf Blueberry (V. cespitosum), Velvet-leaved Blueberry (V. myrtilloides), and Alpine Blueberry (V. uliginosum). One final species, known as New Jersey Highbush Blueberry (V. caesariense), occurs locally in coastal wetlands.
You can learn more and see dozen of photos of these Vaccinium species at Go Botany. Of course, it doesn't matter which species of Blueberry you gather; it simply matters that you get out and enjoy some of these blue fruits of summer.
I've already visited a loaded patch that family members introduced me to last year, and have enjoyed handfuls of sun-ripened goodness. Have you checked your patches yet?
As I mentioned Monday, planted Crab Apple (Malus spp.) trees can retain fruit throughout the white season -- fruit that many types of birds will partake in, when there are few other fruit options on the landscape. One common cultivar and the one shown here is 'Adams' Crab Apple (Malus 'Adams'). I've heard many people call these cherry trees, and with good reason -- if I topped your ice cream sundae with one of these fruits I bet you'd be fooled until you took a bite. Instead of a single hard pit (which Cherries contain), Crab Apples have multiple seeds arranged just like a full-sized apple (slice a fresh one crosswise and you'll see a star-shaped core; if you wait until February, you'll be left with a mushy mess). The only cherries I see during a New England winter are in my freezer (like Black Cherry and Choke Cherry -- both of which I've been using to flavor jello) or imports for sale in a supermarket.
All Crab Apples are edible, and if gathered before they turn to mush some types can be used to make jellies and drinks. By late winter, they are too funky to be appetizing. In my experience, 'Adams' Crab Apples are among those best suited for Wild Turkeys, American Robins, and Cedar Waxwings.
Red Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) is an evergreen subshrub of mountaintops, rocky outcrops, grasslands, and sandy sites and grows wild in northern parts of Europe, Asia, and North America. The shrub's leaves are thick and shiny, about 1" long, and widest near the tip. The sprawling stems are noticeably fuzzy, and, with the use of a hand lens or loupe, fine hairs are also visible on the margins of young leaves. Continue reading Subshrub ID: Red Bearberry