This is a shrub or small tree up to 15' tall (rarely to 30' tall) with
a single trunk up to ½' across (rarely to 1' across). Farkleberry is
typically a much-branched shrub about 3-8' tall as the marginal
habitats where it occurs restrict its growth and development. The trunk
bark is brown, gray, or red, or some combination these colors; it is
thin and prone to shredding. Branches and older twigs are gray and
relatively smooth, while young twigs are reddish brown. The branches
and twigs of this shrub are often crooked. Young shoots are light green
to reddish green and usually pubescent, otherwise they are glabrous.
Alternate leaves occur along the young twigs and shoots. These leaves
are 1-3" long, ½-1½" across, and somewhat leathery in texture;
they are ovate, obovate, or broadly elliptic in shape, while their
margins are smooth (entire) or minutely serrated. The leaf tips are
either rounded or taper abruptly to blunt points, while the leaf
bases are usually wedge-shaped. Leaf venation is pinnate; the secondary
veins are widely separated and relatively sparse across the leaf
surface. The upper leaf surface is medium green, glabrous, and somewhat
shiny, while the lower leaf surface is pale green and glabrous to
finely pubescent (fine hairs are most likely to occur along the central
veins of the leaves).
Racemes of nodding flowers up to 2" long are
produced near the tips of the twigs of the preceding year. These
racemes are produced individually or in small clusters of 2-5. The
central stalks of these racemes are light green and finely pubescent,
while the pedicels are about ½" long, light green, and glabrous (or
nearly so). Each flower is about ¼" long and similarly across,
consisting of a short calyx with 5 broad teeth, a bell-shaped
corolla that is nearly globoid in shape, 10 inserted stamens, and a
pistil with a single style. The calyx is light green and glabrous,
while the corolla is usually white (less often pinkish white). The
corolla also has 5 small lobes along its outer rim that are recurved.
addition to the flowers, the racemes have leafy to scale-like bracts
that are less than 1" in length. The blooming period occurs from late
spring to early summer for about 3 weeks.
Afterwards, fertile flowers
are replaced by globoid berries that become 6-8 mm. across at maturity
during the late summer or fall. Mature berries are black and shiny,
often persisting into the winter. The interior of the berries
is mealy and dry, varying in flavor from bitter to sweet. Each
berry contains up to 10 seeds. The seeds are stony, shiny, and
shaped; they are about 2 mm. in length. This small tree or shrub
reproduces by reseeding itself. In Illinois, Farkleberry is
late-deciduous, while in areas further to the south its leaves can be
The preference is full or partial sun, dry
conditions, and an acidic soil that is rocky or sandy. Farkleberry may
not be winter-hardy in areas north of its native range. Flowers are
usually abundant, but production of fruit is highly variable from
year-to-year. Because of its attractive leaves, flowers, and fruit,
Farkleberry would be an attractive landscape plant, but it transplants
The native Farkleberry is occasional in
Illinois, while in the rest of the state it is absent (see Distribution
). Illinois lies along the northern range limit of this
Habitats include rocky ledges, upper slopes of rocky canyons, upper
slopes of rocky ravines, the tops of cliffs, rocky bluffs,
sandstone glades, barren upland savannas, and upland rocky woodlands.
In many of these habitats, Farkleberry is found in association with
(Eastern Red Cedar) and Quercus
Oak). Outside of Illinois, Farkleberry is also found on sand dunes,
sandy savannas, and other sandy areas, often in association with Pinus
(pines). Because of its thin bark, Farkleberry is
vulnerable to fire.
The flowers are cross-pollinated primarily
various bees seeking nectar and pollen. Insects that feed on the
foliage, wood, plant juices, and fruit of Farkleberry are probably
similar to those that feed on blueberries; more specific information is
unavailable. The berries are eaten by various mammals and birds; this
includes the Black Bear, Eastern Chipmunk, Bobwhite Quail, and American
White-Tailed Deer occasionally browse on the twigs and foliage.
Rocky ledges above a sandstone
canyon in southern Illinois.
Farkleberry is the tallest member of the Heath family (Ericaceae) in
Illinois. Therefore, it can be distinguished from other Vaccinium spp.
within the state by a combination of its size and preference for dry
rocky habitats. It is possible, however, to confuse small specimens of
Farkleberry with other species in this genus. Generally, the leaves of
Farkleberry have secondary veins that are more widely spaced than those
of other similar species (a 10x hand lens may be required to make such
distinctions). A very rare species in Illinois, Vaccinium stamineum
(Deerberry), is a smaller shrub that has flowers with more open
corollas and its berries are more edible to humans than those of
Farkleberry. Deerberry also favors dry rocky habitats. The reddish wood
of Farkleberry has been used to make tool handles and craft items. It
is heavy, hard, and strong.