Blueberry Phylogeny and Varietes
There are more than 1000 described species in the blueberry subfamily, Vaccinioideae, of the family Ericacea (, ). Within this subfamily, the largest genus is Vaccinium, consisting of approximately 450 species (). Taxonomy of these species is based on pre-molecular techniques, and most genera are poorly understood ()
Vaccinium corymbosum, also known as the northern highbush bluberry, is a species within the section cyanococcus (). This section consists of the species V. angustifolium, V. boreale, V. caesariense, V. corymbosum, V. darrowii, V. elliotti, V. formosum, V. fuscatum, V. hirsutum, V. koreanum, V. myrsinites, V. myrtilloides, V. pallidum, V. simulatum, V. tenellum, and V. virgatum. V. corymbosum is native to North America and is a shrub approximately 6-12 feet tall (). While most of the species you can find in a supermarket are native to North America, the highest diversity of blueberry family species is found in the tropics ().
A 2002 study in the American Journal of Botany entitled, "Phylogenetic relationships within the blueberry tribe (Vaccinieae, Ericaceae) based on sequence data from MATK and nuclear ribosomal ITS regions, with comments on the placement of Satyria," provided phylogenetic analysis and trees, but none of these trees included the species we are studying. They can be seen here.
I could not find a taxonomic flow chart that included all of the terms listed by the papers I have cited. I have pieced together my understanding of the hierarchy, judging by the way each paper uses each term:
Tribe → Family → Subfamily → Genus → Subgenus/section → Species
Commercial Varieties and History
Along with V. ashei (also known as the southern rabbiteye), V. corymbosum is the most highly cultivated species of blueberry. These two species were domesticated throughout the 20th century and used to create the cultivated blueberry industry (, ). Efforts to create the current, commercial blueberry began in the early 1900’s when Elizabeth White and Dr. Frederick Coville collected and bred wild blueberries with desirable traits in the Northeast USA. There are many edible species within Vaccinium, with common names such as bilberry, cowberry, cranberry, farkleberry, lingonberry, and sparkleberry ().
The scientific names of these species are the following:
Sparkleberry/farkleberry: Vaccinium arboreum
Bilberry: Vaccinium myrtillus
Cowberry/lingonberry: Vaccinium vitis-idaea
Cranberry: In “sub-genus” oxycoccos, Vaccinium oxycoccos
None of these species are listed to be in the same section as V. corymbosum."
As members of the family Ericaceae, blueberries grow best in acid soils, with a pH between 4 and 5 ().
In the Northeastern United States, Native Americans revered blueberries for the perfect five-pointed star formed by the blossom end of each berry ()