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Weekly “What is it?”: Sparkleberry

Sparkleberry blooms in the spring. Photo credit: UF IFAS Extension, Carrie Stevenson

Some foods just transport you to summertime. Ice cream, watermelon, and blueberries top my list. The sweet juiciness of a fresh-picked blueberry on a hot afternoon is one of life’s simple pleasures. Thankfully, northwest Florida is home to at least 8 species of native blueberries, and abundant “u-pick” farms dot the landscape for those looking for a fun family outing. Vaccinium (blueberry) plants are native to area wetlands and uplands, thriving in the naturally more acidic soils of north Florida.

The twisting, reddish brown bark makes sparkleberry an interesting feature in the landscape. Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson, UF IFAS Extension

In addition to the typical blueberry, we have its cousin, the sparkleberry (aka “farkleberry” in some places). Its white bell-shaped blossoms and small green leaves are very similar to the traditional edible species. As its species name—arboreum—indicates, the sparkleberry is more of a small tree than a bush. Wildlife love sparkleberries. While they are safe for human consumption, most people consider them too bitter or tart to eat straight off the tree. If eaten, you may want to include in muffins or jellies to sweeten them. Sparkleberry also provides beautiful color in the garden, from its sinewy reddish bark to its gorgeous orange/red fall color. It can live in full sun, but like most of its blueberry relatives, prefers shade. Another great benefit to adding this one to your landscape is that it is considered highly wind resistant, so it should hold up well to hurricanes.