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Blueberries are perennial flowering plants with indigo-colored berries from the section Cyanococcus within the genus Vaccinium (a genus that also includes cranberries and bilberries). Species in the section Cyanococcus are the most common fruits sold as "blueberries" and are native to North America (commercially cultivated highbush blueberries were not introduced into Europe until the 1930s).
Blueberries are usually erect. Prostrate shrubs can vary in size from 10 centimeters (3.9 in) to 4 meters (13 ft) in height. In the commercial production of blueberries, the smaller species are known as "low-bush blueberries" (synonymous with "wild"), while the larger species are known as "high-bush blueberries".
The leaves can be either deciduous or evergreen, ovate to lanceolate, and 1–8 cm (0.39–3.15 in) long and 0.5–3.5 cm (0.20–1.38 in) broad. The flowers are bell-shaped, white, pale pink or red, sometimes tinged greenish. The fruit is a berry 5–16 millimeters (0.20–0.63 in) in diameter with a flared crown at the end; they are pale greenish at first, then reddish-purple, and finally dark purple when ripe. They are covered in a protective coating of powdery epicuticular wax, colloquially known as the "bloom". They have a sweet taste when mature, with variable acidity. Blueberry bushes typically bear fruit in the middle of the growing season: fruiting times are affected by local conditions such as altitude and latitude, so the height of the crop can vary from May to August depending upon these conditions.
The genus Vaccinium has a mostly circumpolar distribution with species in North America, Europe, Asia, and Africa.
Many commercially sold species with English common names including "blueberry" are currently classified in section Cyanococcus of the genus Vaccinium and come predominantly from North America. Many North American native species of blueberries are grown commercially in the Southern Hemisphere in Australia, New Zealand and South American nations.
Several other wild shrubs of the genus Vaccinium also produce commonly eaten blue berries, such as the predominantly European Vaccinium myrtillus and other bilberries, that in many languages have a name that translates "blueberry" in English. See the Identification section for more information.
Note: habitat and range summaries are from the Flora of New Brunswick, published in 1986 by Harold R. Hinds and Plants of the Pacific Northwest coast, published in 1994 by Pojar and MacKinnon
Some other blue-fruited species of Vaccinium:
Commercially offered blueberries are usually from species that naturally occur only in eastern and north-central North America. Other sections in the genus, native to other parts of the world, including the Pacific Northwest and southern United States, South America, Europe, and Asia, include other wild shrubs producing similar-looking edible berries, such as huckleberries and whortleberries (North America) and bilberries (Europe). These species are sometimes called "blueberries" and sold as blueberry jam or other products.
The names of blueberries in languages other than English often translate as "blueberry", e.g., Scots blaeberry and Norwegian blåbær. Blaeberry, blåbær and French myrtilles usually refer to the European native bilberry (V. myrtillus), while bleuets refers to the North American blueberry. Russian голубика ("blue berry") does not refer to blueberries, which are non-native and nearly unknown in Russia, but rather to their close relatives, bog bilberries (V. uliginosum).
Cyanococcus blueberries can be distinguished from the nearly identical-looking bilberries by their flesh color when cut in half. Ripe blueberries have light green flesh, while bilberries, whortleberries and huckleberries are red or purple throughout.
Blueberries may be cultivated, or they may be picked from semiwild or wild bushes. In North America, the most common cultivated species is V. corymbosum, the northern highbush blueberry. Hybrids of this with other Vaccinium species adapted to southern U.S. climates are known collectively as southern highbush blueberries.
So-called "wild" (lowbush) blueberries, smaller than cultivated highbush ones, are prized for their intense color. The lowbush blueberry, V. angustifolium, is found from the Atlantic provinces westward to Quebec and southward to Michigan and West Virginia. In some areas, it produces natural "blueberry barrens", where it is the dominant species covering large areas. Several First Nations communities in Ontario are involved in harvesting wild blueberries.
"Wild" has been adopted as a marketing term for harvests of managed native stands of lowbush blueberries. The bushes are not planted or genetically manipulated, but they are pruned or burned over every two years, and pests are "managed".
Numerous highbush cultivars of blueberries are available, with diversity among them, each having a unique flavor. The most important blueberry breeding program has been the USDA-ARS breeding program based at Beltsville, Maryland, and Chatsworth, New Jersey. This program began when Frederick Coville of the USDA-ARS collaborated with Elizabeth Coleman White of New Jersey. In the early part of the 20th century, White offered pineland residents cash for wild blueberry plants with unusually large fruit.
The rabbiteye blueberry (Vaccinium virgatum syn. V. ashei) is a southern type of blueberry produced from the Carolinas to the Gulf Coast states. Other important species in North America include V. pallidum, the hillside or dryland blueberry. It is native to the eastern U.S., and common in the Appalachians and the Piedmont of the Southeast. Sparkleberry, V. arboreum, is a common wild species on sandy soils in the Southeast.
Significant production of highbush blueberries occurs in British Columbia, Maryland, Western Oregon, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, and Washington. The production of southern highbush varieties in California is rapidly increasing, as varieties originating from University of Florida, Connecticut, New Hampshire, North Carolina State University and Maine have been introduced. Southern highbush berries are now also cultivated in the Mediterranean regions of Europe, Southern Hemisphere countries and China.
Georgia has the longest harvest season in the U.S. lasting from late April through the end of July. In a little more than 10 years, Georgia has become a major player in the global blueberry market. Georgia is the fourth- or fifth-highest producer of cultivated blueberries in the U.S., with almost 10 percent of production. In 2012, Georgia produced 77 million pounds of blueberries from nearly 15,000 acres of orchards.
Maine produces 25% of all lowbush blueberries in North America with 24,291 hectares (60,020 acres) (FAO figures)[full citation needed] under cultivation. Wild blueberry is the official fruit of Maine. But Hammonton, NJ claims to be the "Blueberry Capital of the World, with over 80% of New Jersey's blueberries coming from this town. Every year the town hosts a large festival that draws thousands of people to celebrate the fruit.
Canadian exports of blueberries in 2007 were C$756 million, the largest fruit crop produced nationally, occupying more than half of all Canadian fruit acreage.
Nova Scotia, the biggest producer of wild blueberries in Canada, recognizes the blueberry as its official provincial berry. The town of Oxford, Nova Scotia is known as the Wild Blueberry Capital of Canada. New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island are other Atlantic provinces with major wild blueberry farming.
Quebec is a major producer of wild blueberries, especially in the regions of Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean (where a popular name for inhabitants of the regions is bleuets, or "blueberries") and Côte-Nord, which together provide 40% of Quebec's total provincial production.
Highbush blueberries were first introduced to Germany, Sweden and the Netherlands in the 1930s, and have since been spread to Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Romania, Poland, Italy, Hungary and other countries of Europe.
The northeastern part of Turkey is one of the main sources of Caucasian whortleberry (V. arctostaphylos), bilberry (V. myrtillus) and bog blueberry, bog whortleberry or bog bilberry (V. uliginosum). This region from Artvin to Kırklareli, as well as parts of Bursa (including Rize, Trabzon, Ordu, Giresun, Samsun, Sinop, Kastamonu, Zonguldak, İstanbul, İzmit and Adapazari) have rainy, humid growing periods and naturally acidic soils suitable for blueberries (Çelik, 2005, 2006 and 2007).[full citation needed]
Native Vaccinium species and open-pollinated types have been grown for over a hundred years around the Black Sea region of Turkey. These native blueberries are eaten locally as jelly or dried or fresh fruit (Çelik, 2005).[full citation needed] Highbush blueberry cultivation started around the year 2000. The first commercial blueberry orchard was established by Osman Nuri Yildiz and supervised by Dr. Huseyin Celik, the founder of Turkish blueberry cultivation.
Blueberries were first introduced to Australia in the 1950s, but the effort was unsuccessful. In the early 1970s, David Jones from the Victorian Department of Agriculture imported seed from the U.S. and a selection trial was started. This work was continued by Ridley Bell, who imported more American varieties. In the mid-1970s, the Australian Blueberry Growers' Association was formed.
By the early 1980s, the blueberry industry was started in New Zealand and is still growing.
South Africa exports blueberries to Europe.
Commercial blueberry production in Argentina was 400 hectares (990 acres) in 2001 and 1,600 hectares (4,000 acres) in 2004. Production in Argentina is increasing. "Argentine blueberry production has thrived in four different regions: the province[s] of Entre Rios in northeastern Argentina, [...] Tucuman, Buenos Aires [...], and the southern Patagonian valleys", according to the report.
Chile is the biggest producer in South America and the largest exporter to the Northern Hemisphere, with an estimated area of 12,400 hectares (31,000 acres) in 2012 (ODEPA/CIREN). Introduction of the first plants started in the early 1980s, and production started in the late 80s in the southern part of the country. Today, production ranges from Copiapó in the north to Puerto Montt in the south, which allows the country to offer blueberries from October through late March. The main production area today is the Biobío Region. Production has evolved rapidly in the last decade, becoming the fourth most important fruit exported in value terms. Blueberries are exported mainly to North America (80%), followed by Europe (18%). Most of the production comes from the highbush type, but several rabbiteye blueberries are grown in the country, as well.
In Peru, there are several private initiatives for the development of the crop. Also, the government through its agency Sierra Exportadora, has launched the program "Peru Berries" to take advantage of the existence of the ideal soil and climate required by the blueberry.
The blueberry harvest in North America varies. It can start as early as May and usually ends in late summer. The principal areas of production in the Southern Hemisphere (Australia, Chile, New Zealand and Argentina) have long periods of harvest. In Australia, for example, due to the geographic spread of blueberry farms and the development of new cultivation techniques, the industry is able to provide fresh blueberries for 10 months of the year – from July through to April. Similar to other fruits and vegetables, climate-controlled storage allows growers to preserve picked blueberries. Harvest in the UK is from June to August.
For many years, blueberries were hand picked. In modern times, traditional hand picking is still quite common especially for the more delicate varieties. More commonly, farmers will use harvesters that will shake the fruit off the bush. The fruit is then brought to a cleaning/packaging facility where it is cleaned, packaged, then sold.
Blueberries are sold fresh or processed as individually quick frozen (IQF) fruit, purée, juice, or dried or infused berries, which in turn may be used in a variety of consumer goods, such as jellies, jams, blueberry pies, muffins, snack foods and cereals.
Blueberry wine is made from the flesh and skin of the berry, which is fermented and then matured; usually the lowbush variety is used.
|Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)|
|Energy||240 kJ (57 kcal)|
|Dietary fiber||2.4 g|
|Vitamin A equiv.|
|Vitamin A||54 IU|
|Percentages are roughly approximated using US recommendations for adults.|
Source: USDA Nutrient Database
Blueberries have a diverse range of micronutrients, with moderate levels (relative to respective Dietary Reference Intakes) of the essential dietary mineral manganese, vitamin C, vitamin K and dietary fiber (table). One serving provides a relatively low glycemic load score of 4 out of 100 per day.
Blueberries contain anthocyanins, other pigments and various phytochemicals, which are under preliminary research for their potential role in reducing risks of diseases such as inflammation and cancer. Similar to red grape, blueberries may contain resveratrol.
Most polyphenol studies have been conducted using the highbush cultivar of blueberries (V. corymbosum), while content of polyphenols and anthocyanins in lowbush (wild) blueberries (V. angustifolium) exceeds values found in highbush cultivars.
In preliminary research, feeding blueberries to rats reduced brain damage in experimental stroke and may cause increased production of vascular nitric oxide that influences blood pressure regulation. Additional research showed that blueberry consumption in rats altered glycosaminoglycans that are vascular cell components affecting control of blood pressure.
Other preliminary studies found blueberry consumption lowered cholesterol and total blood lipid levels, possibly affecting symptoms of heart disease. Wild South American varieties may contain higher levels of polyphenols, but this finding remains unconfirmed and uncertain of its significance.
Other preliminary research showed that supplementation of diets with wild blueberry juice may benefit the brain, improve memory and learning in older adults, while possibly reducing blood sugar and symptoms of depression.
The application of pesticides is common in large-scale blueberry monoculture in Maine. Because "wild" is a marketing term generally used for all low-bush blueberries, it is not an indication that such blueberries are free from pesticides.
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