Blueberries, huckleberries, bilberries–whatever!

There are a lot of fruits which are called by these names, but they really fall into (mainly) two categories.
Fruits which are usually black (or blue), which may or may not have a dusting of blue, but which do have quite a few seeds, these are often (but not always) called huckleberries. These are all in the genus Gaylussacia, for those of you with a botanical bent.
The other category is of the genus Vaccinium, which are the true blueberries. These berries are the really blue ones, with a very blue dust (called bloom) on them. These are the main ones which we love to eat, to preserve, to make pies with. They are the ones which are grown domestically, and which you find in your grocery store.
But that’s not all! Among the Huckleberries there are dwarf, tall, box, black, snap, high, and so on—more than 40 varieties. And Blueberries come as lowbush, Canadian, tall, high bush, swamp, and many more. And some are called Bilberries, Deerberries, Bayberries, Dangleberries, and on and on.
There are lots of these berries, and that’s a good thing.
They are wonderful food for many kinds of wildlife, grouse, pheasants, doves, and many kinds of smaller birds. And they form a good part of the diet of a great many mammals, from little mice right up to foxes and wolves.
And, of course, here in the North, we all know about the bears. We watch for the berries in the summer. If the crop is poor, we can expect to see the bears at the garbage dumps, in town, and at our back doors.
While true Huckleberries grow to only about three feet or so, the Highbush Blueberries can grow up to 12 or 15 feet.
These are the ones which have been most popular as domesticated plants. There are now many blueberry farms. New varieties have been produced, with very large fruit.
Most folk, though, think that the taste of the wild berries is greatly superior to that of the farm ones.
There are various species of these berries in almost all of the northern hemisphere. Some grow as far north as Alaska and the Yukon, others down south to Florida and Louisiana. Some of them grow in low or swampy areas.
But the ones which we know and love are those which grow out in the open, on top of the rocks. In some places, here in Northern Ontario, they are very plentiful indeed. The thin, acid soil, and the climate suit them.
But the place where I have seen the most blueberries is in Nova Scotia. They grow profusely in the skimpy soil on the rocky outcroppings, in between the areas of trees–the “blueberry barrens.”
The big pickers burn the barrens every five years or so, to get a good crop in between. When the crop is a good one, the whole area looks blue. You can pick them, literally, by the handful.
Whether this still goes on, I don’t know, but years ago there used to be a special plane which flew from Yarmouth to Boston every day—it was the “Blueberry Special.” In those days, the plane wasn’t well heated at all, so your trip was not anywhere near first class.
Anyway, blueberries are big business nowadays, whether they are picked in the wild, or grown on farms.
No matter what you call them, or where they come from, those pies, cakes and muffins sure taste good!

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