This small deciduous shrub is ½-2' tall with spreading leafy branches.
The trunk and branches of older shrubs are often woody with
shredded bark, while young shoots and twigs are green to brownish
red, terete, and finely warty. Sometimes the twigs and shoots are
short-pubescent. Alternate leaves along the twigs and shoots are ¾-1½"
long and about ¼-¾" across; they are elliptic in shape and very finely
serrated along their margins. Both the upper and lower surfaces of the
leaves are medium to dark green and glabrous (or nearly so). The
short petioles are up to 1/8" (3 mm.) in length.
Small clusters of
nodding flowers develop from the preceding year's twigs. Each flower is
about ¼" long and a little less across, consisting of a short green
calyx with 5 teeth, a short-tubular corolla that is white or
pinkish white, 10 inserted stamens, and an inferior ovary with a single
style. The corolla is slightly indented along its upper rim, where 5
tiny lobes occur that are recurved. The peduncle and pedicels of
the clustered flowers are light green to reddish brown and glabrous.
The blooming period occurs from late spring to early summer for
about 3 weeks. Afterwards, fertile flowers are replaced by globoid
berries up to 1/3" (8 mm.) across that become dark blue with a whitish
bloom at maturity. At this time, the fleshy interior of each berry is
juicy and sweet and it typically contains 10-15 tiny seeds. The root
usually shallow and spreading, although a taproot may develop on an
older shrub. Vegetative colonies are produced from underground
runners. The deciduous leaves often become red or burgundy during the
The preference is full sun to light
shade, mesic to dry conditions, and an acidic soil that is sandy.
Cross-pollination between genetically distinct shrubs increases the
production of fruit. This shrub may fail to produce flowers and fruit
in areas that are too shady.
Lowbush Blueberry is occasional in NE Illinois (see Distribution
Habitats include sand prairies, shrub prairies, sandy savannas,
sandy woodlands, rocky upland woodlands, rocky bluffs, sand dunes along
Lake Michigan, and bogs. Lowbush Blueberry is sometimes the dominant
understory shrub in some of these habitats, especially when they are
sandy. This shrub becomes more abundant in response to occasional
wildfires and the openings that such wildfires create.
The flowers are cross-pollinated primarily
bees, including Andrenid bees (Andrena
), bumblebees, and
honeybees. Both nectar and pollen are available as floral rewards. The
pollen is released from the anthers in response to the "buzz
pollination" of the bees (high frequency vibration of the thoracic
muscles). In addition to these floral visitors, many insects feed on
the foliage, stems, and other parts of blueberry shrubs. For example,
the larvae of two beetles, Oberea
(Rhododendron Stem Borer)
and Oberea tripunctata
(Dogwood Twig Borer), bore through the twigs of
these shrubs, while the larvae of two flies, Dasineura cyanococci
and Dasineura oxycoccum
(Blueberry Gall Midge), form galls on the buds
or developing flowers. Other insect feeders include the leaf beetles
, the larvae of Rhagoletis
(Blueberry Fruit Fly), Clastoptera saintcyri
(Blunt-Nosed Leafhopper), and Mesolecanium
(Terrapin Scale). The caterpillars of two
(Brown Elfin) and Callophrys
Elfin), feed on the flowers and developing fruits of blueberry shrubs.
In addition to these insects, the caterpillars of such moths as Hemaris gracilis
(Slender Clearwing), Sympistis
(Blueberry Cinder), and
(Reddish Heath Dart) also feed on these shrubs (see the
more complete listing of these species). Blueberries
fruits are an important source of food to many vertebrate animals.
These species include the terrestrial turtles, Clemmys insculpta
(Wood Turtle) and Terrapene
(Eastern Box Turtle); such birds as the
Ruffed Grouse, Wild Turkey, Blue Jay, American Robin, Yellow-Breasted
Chat, Wood Thrush, and Eastern Bluebird (see the Bird Table
for a more
complete listing of species); and such mammals as the Black Bear, Red
Fox, Raccoon, Striped Skunk, Opossum, Red Squirrel, Eastern Chipmunk,
Jumping Mouse, Deer Mouse, and White-Footed Mouse. In addition to the
fruits, the White-Tailed Deer and Cottontail Rabbit also browse on the
foliage and twigs. Because Lowbush Blueberry is a densely branched
shrub that often forms large colonies, it provides significant
protective cover for ground-nesting birds and other wildlife.
A sandy woodland near
Lake Michigan at the Indiana Dunes State Park in NW Indiana.
) is one of the primary sources of
commercial blueberries, particularly in the New England region of the
United States. The flavor of the berries is sweet and mild.
Because this shrub is somewhat variable across its range,
different varieties have been described, although none of these are
currently recognized in Illinois. Compared to the Hillside Blueberry
Lowbush Blueberry has more narrow leaves and
its leaf undersides are less pale. It differs from another species,
Canada Blueberry (Vaccinium
), by having leaf
undersides that are glabrous, rather than pubescent. These species
usually occupy drier habitats than the taller Highbush Blueberry
the latter is typically found in forested bogs
and similar wet habitats.