Huckleberries AKA May Berries, AKA Elliot's Blueberry AKA Vaccinium elliottii


#1

There are several threads on here about Blueberries and at least one about evergreen huckleberries. But I do believe anyone has posted a thread about a blueberry native to much of the Deep South and very abundant in moist forests, Vaccinium elliottii, known locally here in Bulloch County Georgia as “huckleberries”. In other places they are called “May berries”, Swamp Huckleberries, Elliot’s Blueberry or box leaf blueberry.

When I first moved to Georgia, I transplanted about 30 plants to my yard that were growing in the understory of bottomland hardwood forests and pine forests on some property I own on the Ogeechee River. I love huckleberries, but getting a big enough crop in the wild to amount to much is more miss than hit. I wanted to see how they responded to cultivation. I treat them just like I do my rabbit eye blueberries, and they are doing great, way better than the rabbit eye blueberries. As you would expect for plants taken from the wild fruit quality varies a lot. I’m noticing about three distinct strains. The very early ones with the biggest berries have a very tall and erect growth habit. The very weepy ones have really small berries. However, most of the bushes are pretty productive except just a few have not grown much.

They are not as sweet as commercial blueberries and are a lot smaller. But they are a lot more tolerant of shade and drought, and more importantly, the berries are a lot more flavorful when put in jams, cobblers, pies and the like. It’s a much more intensely flavored berry. Another important thing is that they are very, very early. I start picking huckleberries in April. They have a long season. I’m picking the last of the huckleberries when I pick plums in late May and early June. Anyway I have pictures below. God bless.

Marcus




#2

Here is a link to a video I made about my huckleberries: https://youtu.be/JlS078dtIaI


#3

In this video I’m fertilizing my huckleberries. In all I probably got about 4 gallons of huckleberries last year. Gallon per gallon, rabbit eye blueberries are more productive. But there is no question that most people who compare jam made from huckleberries vs blueberries tend to like the huckleberries more. Probably the best jam that I make is what I call a “Spring Jam” which is a mixture of Huckleberries, Mariana Plums and wild sandhill blackberries (Rubus cunniafolia). https://youtu.be/Bqjo_XCHLEc


#4

More huckleberry picks:





#5

I can go from having never heard of something, to coveting something, in the time it takes to read a webpage.

I see one nursery selling these online, but one selected for better fruit would be nice.


#6

My understanding is that the University Georgia is close to releasing a series of cultivars from this species specifically bred for fall and winter leaf cover. They are in my opinion the most ornamental of the blueberries due to the fact that the leaves of the wild type turn dark red and hang on the bushes until they start blooming in January and February. The problem with huckleberries is that they are very hard to propagate. The seeds have a super low germination rate, and they are really hard to root. The easiest way to propagate them is to layer them or simply wait until a bush suckers which they do quite a bit once they reach a certain size. Four of my bushes bloom earlier than the rest and a very erect and narrow growth habit and start blooming a good two to three weeks before the rest. They by far have the biggest and sweetest berries with the exception that there is another bush that very erect and has big berries but is quite tart and blooms and ripens late. I’m sure that a lot can be done with them. Maybe UGA has figured out how to propagate them in mass. What I know is that their ornamentals will display all kinds of different fall and winter colors.

If someone had more space and resources than I do it would be fun to transplant a field of these things from the wild, select the best ones and figure out how to breed them. Apparently someone at UGA knows how, but I don’t. God bless.

Marcus


#7

I don’t know of any blueberries that are easy to propagate. Mist or fog is needed.
I like berries like this, but this species will probably never grow here. We have our own version of wild blueberries. I don’t grow any at this time, wild ones that is. I have plenty of cultivated plants. And yeah production is better on them for sure.

Maybe not wild tart berries, but these blueberries will blow away anything you find in the store. This is Liberty.


#8

I took four cuttings of Jersey in July and rooted two of them. One died after being transplanted. The remaining one was kept in an unheated garage over winter and then spent the summer potted outside. It’s now about 5 inches tall. Considering how inexpensive blueberry plants are in the spring at places like Home Depot and Walmart it’s not worth the effort rooting cuttings unless it’s a special variety or many plants are needed.


#9

I have a Cara’s Choice, and it is so good, I would like more plants, but buying them is out at 26 bucks for two. Not outrageous, but the first time I got two dry sticks, one came back somehow, the other died. And currently they are the only supplier. I will try later to propagate it anyway.


#10

http://growingfruit-images.s3-us-west-2.amazonaws.com/optimized/3X/d/c/dcd26f440daed0f5cd086ec34c563cedc15319fd_1_690x517.JPG

I propagated this one today, actually transplanted two suckers. This is by far my best huckleberry. I had two bushes of it which I divided off from the same clump when I transplanted them from the wild. It blooms and ripens earlier than all the others. It has big berries. Two other strains among my huckleberries have just as big of berries but they are a little later, are not as sweet, and the bushes are less vigorous so far. This one stands out as the one to propagate of the ones I happened to put in my yard. I’m naming it Dotty after my late Aunt. The next time the ones in the wild set a good crop, I will look for one that is comparable, but we have not had a good crop of wild huckleberries in the five years since I have moved back to Georgia. The ones in my yard act like they are going to produce a crop every year. They are responding to care well. Never the less they are smaller than rabbit eye blueberries. Here is a link to a video I just made about propagating Dotty: https://youtu.be/dC5kVFpi7b4 By the way, in the wild huckleberries seem to mostly self propagate by suckering and layering. God bless.

Marcus


#11

One day I will grow some wild types that work here. As I prefer the taste of the wild types. Wild red raspberries here taste nothing like cultivated ones. Same with strawberries, they have the alpine taste. I like having both wild and cultivated of just about any berry. I was thinking of growing cranberries, but you an buy very good ones here. I like to grow fruit I can’t get elsewhere.


#12

I totally agree with that. Actually when it comes to blackberries, I’m pretty convinced that I am unlikely to grow better blackberries than the wild sandhill blackberries that grow under the longleaf pines on my pine plantation. I pick a five gallon bucket full of them and make jam every year. Unlike blackberries, wild huckleberries don’t make much most years than they make a bumper crop about every four or five years. However, in my yard where I control water, weeds and sun and keep them pruned and fertilized, they act like they are going to make bumper crops every year. God bless.

Marcus


#13

Here, I don’t like the wild blackberries, I stopped foraging them. I myself prefer the Raspberry-blackberry hybrids like tayberry, wyeberry etc. Although New Berry, Marion etc are exceptionally fine blackberries. I also like to breed brambles, but I’m just dabbing. I have a new hybrid that will fruit this year. Hoping it’s a winner. I hope to make some new crosses this year.


#14

In SE Georgia, it matters a lot which species of blackberry you pick. We have two erect species. Rubus cuniafolia, (sandhill blackberry( is the good one. The bushes are knee to belly button high and have soft fuzzy leaves that are white on the back. The berries are thimble size, soft, sweet and juicy. Rubus bettuafolia (swamp blackberry) has a distinctive bitter aftertaste. The berries and smaller and can be kind of long. They are OK for jam, but you really need to add some herbs like rosemary to turn the pungent aftertaste into something interesting. This might be a good one to add chilly peppers to. By the way, swamp blackberries are often over 8 feet tall and have wicked thorns and make terrible thickets. Not only do the handhill blackberries taste better, they are a lot more pleasant to pick. God bless.

Marcus


#15

Here is the link to the other video I just made on propagating huckleberries from suckers: https://youtu.be/N7viS9Fq8bM God bless.

Marcus


#16

Both of my mature Dotty Huckleberry bushes are almost finished blooming and are full of growing huckleberries. It’s amazing the difference in what a week makes in how the huckleberries look. God bless.

Marcus


#17

LOL! I was so feeling tempted to go buy some Pink Lemonade Blueberries today, but I put my foot down, and said: “No! I am not spending more money on blueberries!” But I do have some holes in my huckleberry patch where previous transplants from the wild failed and from where I pulled out southern highbush blueberries. So today I went on my typical outing to the Winlo Pine Plantation, this time not to fish but to dig up wild blueberries and huckleberries. Given how warm it is and that the huckleberries are pretty much leafed out, I might be too late in the season doing this, but we shall know in about two weeks I guess.

Anyway, I came back with four huckleberry bushes and three rabbit eye blueberries from a wildish mystery stand on the plantation. As far as anyone knows, there are no truly wild populations of rabbit eye blueberries in existence anywhere. All of them are all ones that were at one point planted by birds from domestic bushes or they are remnants of forgotten planting. I suspect that this population originally of five big bushes (now 4) is the latter situation. A few hundred feet away are bricks left over from sharecropper houses dating back to the post Civil War era. According to my late mom they were dilapidated to the point of being dangerous when my grandfather bought the property in 1945, so he had them torn down. I’m guessing that the people who lived in those houses had blueberry bushes. There is at least two distinct different kinds (varieties?). I have no idea if they are named varieties known to horticulture or not. They are either seedlings or they originated from those tenant houses which predate even the old varieties common now such as Tiff Blue and Powder Blue. I actually have five blueberries from this old population in my yard, and they actually do better than any of the newer commercial varieties. They are hardier, healthier, bigger plants that produce bigger berries, but the berries are nowhere near as sweet as the newer varieties. They are much more on the sour side of things. But one of the strains, one I call Ginny after my mom, has a pretty lavender cast over it, and the berries are lavender from the time they first form until they ripen. It’s the prettiest blueberry plant I have ever seen, and it stands out from everything else, both in the woods and in my yard.

The huckleberries are young seedlings that I dug up from a vicinity of the property where the berries were especially big and sweet back when I was a kid. The area is too shady for bushes to produce much because the pine trees at the stage that they are in are creating too much shade. Still, I’m hoping these young plants have good genes. I chose seedlings rather than suckers from established plants because its easier to get most of the root system. I was going for young plants with a very erect and narrow growth habit because it seems to consistently be the case all over the property that the young plants with a very erect profile produce much bigger berries when they mature. The ones that are more spreading or weeping when young seem to consistently produce smaller berries when mature. I’m running with this theory until these plants mature and prove me wrong. LOL!

I have found that huckleberries are easiest to transplant if the plant is about 3 ft tall and you cut it back to about four to six inches when you plant it. I cut out barky stems all together and cut the green new canes for to six inches long depending on how much root I think I got. I have never attempted to transplant huckleberries with them leafed out before. last week the ones I transplanted were not leafed out. One week has made a huge difference. Anyway, this is an experiment. We are about to find out how persnickety huckleberries are about being moved after they have broken dormancy. God bless.

Marcus


#18

Missed this thread until now, thanks for the great information and pics Marcus, really found it interesting and enjoyable! Mike


#19

Thank you Mike for the kind words. God bless.


#20

Very interesting. The only blueberry I knew about while growing up was huckeberries. Love reading your post about them.