By Les Harrison
Wakulla County Extension Director
There is the often quoted Biblical admonition “By your fruits you will be known,” which commonly comes up when discussing behavior. In other words, a reputation will ultimately be based on the deeds and accomplishments of an individual, family or group.
This warning advises long-term performance consistency is critical of establishing ones’ good (or not so good) standing which will form status and image in the public’s mind. The late comic Flip Wilson stated it a bit more directly, and in a different context, when he said, “What you see is what you get.”
This is true with the performance of plants, also, especially in the era of many showy but erratic exotics introduced into the landscape of Wakulla County. Consistently good delivery is frequently noticed.
One native genus which has achieved this elevated standing is Vaccinium. Curiously this scientific name originates from the Latin term vaccin, which translate to “of a cow.”
It is doubtful cattle or livestock were ever involved with these plants, except maybe to scatter its undigested seed. It is likely wild blueberries, sparkleberries, huckleberries and other members of this genus taste good to these herbivores as well.
This genus is easily found worldwide in specific environments, and is a source of food for both humans and wildlife. As with most native plants, individual species have been identified for a variety of other uses.
Sparkleberry (Vaccinium arboretum) is the only North American member of the Vaccinium genus capable of reaching the size comparable to a small tree. Mature specimens can reach up to 30 feet in height, and will take full sun or partial shade.
This species takes advantage of Wakulla County’s quick draining acidic soils to flourish and produce a bountiful crop of berries which turn blue-black at maturity. The common name for sparkleberries comes from the glossy texture of their berries’ appearance.
Sparkleberries bloom during the spring months and emerge in clusters measuring two to three inches long. Its fragrant white flowers are bell-shaped in appearance, as are most blooms in this genus.
The shiny, black ¼-inch berries contain eight to ten seeds. Berries ripen in the fall and remain attached to the plant throughout the winter, serving as a consistent food source for birds and mammals.
Their bark is thin, flaky and brownish red, and commonly has lichen growing on the surfaces which are shedding. The trunk can grow as a single or multi-stemmed tree with branches creating wildly twisting shapes that offer a distinct contrast to straight trunked trees.
Other native Vaccinium species locally include the scrub blueberry (V darowii) which is known for its heat tolerance and low requirement for chill hours, time during the winter under 45 degrees.
The shiny blueberry (V myrsinites) is found in Wakulla County, too. It will form thickets by utilizing subterranean runners in addition to producing berries almost ½ inch in diameter containing several seed.
These natives have been used by plant breeders to develop selectively bred cultivars which grow the extremely popular blueberries found in supermarkets everywhere and shipped internationally.
Members of Wakulla County’s native Vaccinium genus are literally known for their fruit, and the reputation with people, animals, and birds is universally good.