blueberries, deerberries and cranberries
(Vaccinium species)
Ericaceae, the heath family

Meet the genus Vaccinium. In our area the genus Vaccinium includes species belonging to three distinctive taxonomic groups: (1) the cranberries (Subgenus Oxycoccus Section Oxycoccus, (2) the deerberries (Subgenus Vaccinium Section Polycodium), and typical North American Blueberries (Subgenus Vaccinium Section Cyanococcus).

(1) Cranberries, of which Vaccinium macrocarpon is the common Ohio species, are trailing evergreen bog shrubs with small leaves and flower that are 4-petalled (!), with the lobes swept sharply upwards. The flowering example below is V. oxycoccus photographed in West Virginia.

Cranberry flower, June 5, 2014 at Dolly Sods, West Virginia.

This fruiting example is at Triangle Bog State Nature Preserve in Summit County Ohio.

(2) Deerberries, of which Vaccinium stamineum is the common Ohio species,  have bell-shaped flowers, with the 5 lobes spreading.

Deerberry flowers, May 18, 2019, Hocking County Ohio.

The leaves of deerberry are 2.5-10 cm long, pubescent (hairy) and pale beneath, with an entire margin.

Deerberry foliage

(3) Blueberries, of which Vaccinium pallidum is the common, wide-ranging Ohio species and is is a “low-bush” type, while V. corymbosum found in bogs in the northeast is a “high-bush” species, have flowers are are cylindric to globe-shaped, with minute lobes. Below, see V. pallidum (a name that includes what earlier references called V. vacillans). Note that the leaves of this species are typically serrate, and are generally smaller (only 2.5 to 4. 5 cm long) than those of deerberry.

Low blueberry blossom and leaves, May 7, 2006, Hocking County Ohio.

Where to find blueberry/deerberry. E. Lucy Braun, in The Woody Plants of Ohio (1961, 1989; The Ohio State University Press) tells us that blueberry/deerberry is a “Shrub, usually about 1 m. tall, showy when the corolla is fully developed. In Ohio, largely confined to the Allegheny Plateau but extending westward in the pin oak flats of the Illinoian Till Plain, and locally in leached banks. A widespread polymorphic species of acid  soils.”

Scanned Image from an Old Book
(Flora of West Virginia, by P.D. Strausbaugh and Earl L. Core)



Ooh ooh. I have a question!

What family does Vaccinium belong to, and how does their substrate affinity influence the distribution of these plants in Ohio?

The heath family, Ericaceae, are plants of acid soil, hence nearly completely absent from western Ohio. 

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