Florida is known for citrus, but there is another popular crop that is entirely native to the state – blueberries! The blueberries you buy at the grocery store are either a highbush (Vaccinium corymbosum) variety or a rabbiteye (Vaccinium ashei) variety of blueberry that have been cultivated to produce the large sweet blueberries we love. Both the highbush and rabbiteye blueberries are native to the Southeast, including Florida and do very well in areas with full sun and acidic soils (Blueberry Gardener’s Guide). These blueberry bushes can most definitely be utilized in an edible landscape, however they are deciduous and can grow to be 12-15 feet tall and roughly 10 feet wide so they may not be suitable in the average home landscape. Enter the lovely little Darrow’s Blueberry!
Darrow’s blueberry (Vaccinium darrowii) and shiny blueberry (Vaccinium myrsinites) are two small native blueberry bushes commonly found in Florida’s flatwoods and pine forests. Shiny blueberry can tolerate much drier conditions while the Darrow’s blueberry prefers it more moist, albeit not wet. Both need sandy acidic soils and stay around 2 feet tall and wide. Their attractive evergreen foliage with beautiful purple tinge on the new growth really makes them a stand-out edible plant to use in your Florida landscape as a low foundation hedge, border plant or incorporated into your wildflower garden. The flowers and fruit are also smaller than the rabbiteye or highbush cultivars but aren’t any less lovely. The pink or white bell-shaped flowers come out in spring followed by the blueberries in late spring to early summer. Although the blueberries are smaller, they have a great taste and are at a perfect height for children to help you pick from your very own edible landscape.
Explore your local native plant nurseries for any of these blueberry species (Florida Association of Native Nurseries) or contact your UF/IFAS Marion County Extension Service at 352-671-8400 for more information.