Winterberry Farm Primitives

This blog is now devoted to gardening with native plants with a focus on those species native to the east coast of the United States. With an MS in Agricultural Science from the University of Delaware and my love of native plants, I hope to help folks see the beauty and necessity of using native plants in your garden instead of exotic plants. Did you know that our native song birds and native insects are disappearing as our local environments continue to change?
For those who come to this page to see my 'Winterberry Farm Primitives' blog can now be found at where I will post new additions to my online antiques shop at and discuss various subjects about primitive antiques.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Vivacious Vaccinium!

Four more days until Flower Show install day! Arrghh.... I can't wait for Saturday afternoon! The Miniature Setting display will be installed, passed and judged by then and I can relax until Wednesday when my husband and father's display goes in! They are displaying in the Window box and Lamppost Division where the theme is South America and they are doing plants from Brazil. I will have some pictures in the next post!
I know it has been a while since my last post but this Flower Show tends to take more time as the install date gets closer! I will also have some more pictures of the Miniature Setting in the next post because we have had to change some things around due to some problems with a couple of the plants in the display. This is why I always put the plants in about 2 weeks before we take the box up to Philly just to see if the plants will be compatible with a couple of weeks in a box!
But today, I will be posting about some wonderful plants and I will be doing it a bit differently this time. I am posting on an entire genus of plants that include two very familiar plants that can look good in your garden, feed the native wildlife AND are full of antioxidants, so you can eat them too! I will also be talking about species in this genus that can be grown, and are native to, all areas of the United States, and some parts of Canada!
The Vivacious Vacciniums are great little plants that include several species and a variety of shapes and sizes. What are Vacciniums you ask? Why they are our native cranberries and blueberries! Yes, these two great berries, that are also good for you, are native to the United States.
Cranberries, Vaccinium oxycoccos (Oxycoccos palustris) and Vaccinium macrocarpon, are considered to be part of a subgenus of the genus Vaccinium called Oxycoccos. They are still referred to as Vaccinium oxycoccos and Vaccinium macrocarpon in nurseries and online stores, so I will be using these names throughout this blog.
Vaccinium oxycoccos, or the Small Cranberry has a native range that includes all of Canada, Washington State and Oregon on the west coast, and Minnesota across to Maine and down to Virginia on the east coast. Unfortunately, it is threatened in Ohio, Indiana, and Maryland and endangered in Illinois, with most of its habitat destroyed due to construction and the reduction in wetlands and bogs in these states. The small cranberry is not the one that we eat at Thanksgiving but is a small trailing plant that loves boggy and wet areas so it will be found (if you are lucky) in wetlands and other boggy areas within its native range. The flower, like the rest of the plant, is small but beautiful and is held above the trailing stems. The leaves are much smaller than the leaves of the common Northern Cranberry and their leaves curl under at the edges. Unfortunately, it is difficult to find this wonderful little plant in the trade but if you do and if you have a boggy little place to grow it, I would give it a try! It looks vaguely similar to Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens), another wonderful trailing native plant (yes, it was once used for 'wintergreen' gum!) and is a wonderful little plant. It's 'big brother'. known as the American Cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon), is the cranberry that you see at Thanksgiving and is the main ingredient in most cranberry juices; you notice I say 'most' cranberry juices. If you want to taste what cranberries really taste like, buy some 100% Cranberry Juice (Ocean Spray has one that tastes great!) and try it. There is no sugar or high fructose corn syrup (a bad, bad thing!) added so you are getting real juice.
Vaccinium macrocarpon can be found in most provinces of Canada, Washington State to California on the west coast and Minnesota to Maine, down to North Carolina and across to Tennessee (with the exception of Kentucky). The American Cranberry is threatened in Tennessee and endangered in Illinois. Just like its 'little sister', the American Cranberry loves boggy and wet areas, but does not need this type of soil to grow. Full sun is preferred to partial shade and the plants will produce more berries in the sunniest locations. This plant, along with the small cranberry, is evergreen and prefers an acidic soil. It flowers all summer and begins to develop those great berries in late summer. One word of caution - cover your developing fruit if you want to eat it, as the birds and animals will feast on the berries until they are gone. These berries will not make it past the first week or so once they become ripe and if you want to collect them - keep track of when they begin to turn bright red! Cranberries are usually grown in man-made bogs for production but do not need to be flooded in order to give up their berries. Just a little fun fact: all of the cranberries grown for commercial use and derived from Vaccinium macrocarpon are found only in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey and on Cape Cod. Isn't that amazing! To grow this wonderful little plant in your garden, you just need a good sandy loam or loamy soil and bright sun. They are very low maintenance and will give you years of pleasure. They can be bought as seeds and are carried by several online nurseries and seed companies. Here is a description of the American Cranberry from Whatcom Seed Company (

"The American Cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon) offers tremendous potential for the home gardener. Contrary to popular belief, cranberries do not require a bog or wetland for successful culture. The plant is a low, spreading evergreen with a fine texture. Pinkish flowers appear in spring and are followed by the red fruit in the fall. The small leaves can become purple or bronze in the winter. Plant 2 feet apart for a solid ground cover or use in hanging baskets and planters for a delicate cascading effect. Plant in full sun or partial shade in acidic soil. Protect from spring frosts for most consistent yields. About 9" in height."

Another great member of the Vaccinium genus is the blueberry! There are several species of blueberries in different parts of the United States and Canada. They include:
Vaccinium angustifolium (Lowbush Blueberry) whose native range is from Manitoba to Labrador and south to Nova Scotia in Canada. In the United States it can be found from Maine and Minnesota to Iowa and Virginia.
Vaccinium boreale (Northern Blueberry) whose native range in Canada is Quebec and Labrador and in the United States from New York north to Maine.
Vaccinium caesariense (New Jersey Blueberry)found in the United States along the east coast from Maine to Florida (except in CT, DE, VT, WV)
Vaccinium corymbosum (Northern Highbush Blueberry) native to AL, AR, CT, DC, DE, GA, IL, IN, KY, LA, MA, MD, ME, MI, MS, NC, NH, NJ, NY, OH, OK, PA, RI, SC, TN, TX, VA, VT, WA, WI, WV.
Vaccinium darrowii (Southern Highbush Blueberry) native to AL, FL, GA, LA, MS.
Vaccinium elliottii (Elliott Blueberry) native to AL, AR, FL, GA, LA, MS, NC, SC, TN, TX, VA
Vaccinium formosum (southern blueberry) native to AL, FL, GA, MD, NC, NJ, SC, VA

Whew! I hope this list gives you an idea of how easy it is to grow our native blueberry! As with the cranberry, blueberries need sun and plenty of water for the best berry harvest, but they do differ from the cranberry in that they don't need as much water and can be grown almost anywhere in your garden where they will get a lot of sun. Both the northern highbush and lowbush blueberries are found growing wild in Delaware, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey woods and are easy to spot in the spring and summer with their wonderful white flowers. Beginning in mid July and continuing to mid September, the fruits will begin to ripen and its time to pick the berries!
Blueberries are not as popular in the home garden as they should be due to what some people call their 'acidic soil requirements'. One way to reduce this problem is to grow blueberries that are native to your state or region! Not everyone can grow the Northern Blueberry! Check out the blueberry that is native to your area and plan to buy and grow some soon! Remember - not only do these great plants feed the native wildlife - they feed you too! Start checking out those blueberry pie recipes!!
Until next time - keep dreaming and planning your native garden!

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