All blueberries around the world are from the Vaccinium family. This includes the highbush blueberry which is called the Vaccinium corymbosum (Northern Highbush) and Vaccinium ashei (Southern Blueberry or “rabbiteye” blueberry).
These two species, as well as the newly developed Southern Highbush blueberry (Vaccinium virgatum Aiton), are what we call Highbush Blueberries.
In North America, a species from Maine and Eastern Canada, Vaccinium angustifolium (lowbush), is sometimes referred to as the “wild” blueberry. In Europe you will find the Vaccinium myrtillus, called the “bilberry”.
Resource: Check out the USDA Plants Database.
Blueberries have been a part of North American food and medicine traditions for centuries. The earliest native Americans and First Nations in Canada cherished indigenous blueberries from the forest as a staple food. They mixed blueberries with deer and bison meats to make pemmican and dried the berries for winter use.
First settlers to North America from Europe quickly appreciated blueberries and included them in stews, beverages and many of the building block recipes of American culinary heritage such as pies, blueberry buckles, and blueberry grunts. Preserved blueberries were one of the earliest military rations in the US Civil War and other conflicts. Blueberries are as American as — Blueberry pie!
Blueberries were a “gathered” food found in the forests in the summer time throughout North America. A farmer named Elizabeth White of Whitesbog, New Jersey, changed all of this by pursuing her dream of developing a commercial blueberry crop. White was a successful cranberry farmer in Southern New Jersey at the turn of the century. This was not a common profession for a woman in these days and she managed one of the largest, most successful plantations in an area called “Whitesbog.”
Each day she walked from her house to the cranberry bogs down country roads and marveled at the native highbush blueberry plants growing everywhere. Farmers throughout the country had attempted to cultivate the crop in the past and failed.
Elizabeth White decided to team up with USDA botanist, Frederick Coville, who shared her dream and together they began the pursuit to cultivate the blueberry. Coville and White were a great team. He had the science and White was a master farmer. White worked with hunters in the area and offered a bounty to those who would bring back plants and cuttings of big beautiful blueberries.
Coville had some of his first experimental blueberry plantings on the grounds of what is now the US Pentagon in the Washington, DC area — headquarters for the US military! Farming blueberries was not as easy as sticking plants in the ground.
The Coville-White team tested hundreds of plant cultivars, different soil and growing methods, and eventually came up with many of the practices that are used to produce blueberries today. (You can still visit Whitesbog and see original “wild” highbush blueberry plants.)
Resource: USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS)
Historic Collection on Early Blueberry Research.
Blueberry farming has come a long way in the last hundred years since highbush blueberries first went to market in 1916, and the vision of Coville and White has developed into a worldwide blueberry business on six continents.
Today North America (USA, Canada, Mexico) produces about a billion pounds of blueberries annually. In the USA, highbush blueberries are commercially grown in more than 30 states.
In Canada, highbush blueberries are commercially produced in two provinces including British Columbia which is now a leading production region in North America; and highbush blueberries are grown in regions of Mexico.
When you taste highbush blueberries — remember the vision and dedication of our founder, Elizabeth White, who saw the possibilities and made it happen! Thank you for the support.
US highbush blueberries continue to thrive with production acres, farming and processing efficiencies. In the USA, fresh blueberry production begins in February in the Southeast and ends in early October in the Northwest. The peak of North American frozen production is from June through August. Highbush blueberries comprise 88% of all blueberries grown in the United States and 63% of the North American blueberry crop.